Cheer up, Tommy Mooney
Report by Ian Grant
The end of a best-forgotten era. If the announcement of the takeover of Watford Football Club before the game
brings new hope to supporters, then the match itself was a stark reminder of how much work remains to
be done. Elton's return, along with the presentation of the 'player of the season' award to Kevin Miller just
seconds before kick-off and the obvious need for three points, gave the pre-match atmosphere a
distinctly surreal air of expectation and celebration. By the end of the first half, it was flat as a steam-rollered hedgehog -
such are the sedative powers of our brand of football...
Some might say that this result condemns us to another season in the Second Division. It doesn't -
in reality, we blew this one over the course of a season - and I trust that Kenny Jackett reminded a
tearful Tommy Mooney of that fact in the dressing room afterwards. This game represented a spirited attempt
to regain the lost ground - dropped points that date back to Plymouth at home, through those God-forsaken
Christmas draws against Gillingham and Notts County, right up to Thursday's feeble surrender to Chesterfield.
It was too little, too late.
On this occasion, you can't fault them for effort. The desire to win, to make amends for past failures, was apparent in
every tackle, every pass and every shot. Unfortunately, and this has been something of a theme throughout
the season, there was little focus for that desire - we were gutsy and determined but, in our rush to look committed, we forgot
to think about what we were doing.
As on Thursday, we had the better of the opening exchanges without managing more than one serious effort on
goal. Fine work by Darren Bazeley, back and more sprightly for his lay-off, gave Nigel Gibbs the chance to put in a cross from
the bye-line. It was met at the near post by (put your hands together for...) Richard Johnson, who guided a header just a foot
past the post. I'm convinced that we had further attempts in the early stages but, to be frank, I've completely forgotten
Gradually, Bury's obstinate defending turned the game around. They'd had a pretty good opportunity while
we were still dominating, their centre forward failing to make a proper connection with a chance in the six yard box and
slicing it well wide. In the end, however, they proved that their position is no fluke and were unfortunate not
to be ahead by half-time. We can thank Alec Chamberlain for an outstanding save, tipping over a close range header with a
flick of the arm that was so quick it seemed impossible. We can also thank Steve Palmer for clearing a goal-bound free-kick
from the line.
At the interval, we were relatively happy to be level and still clinging to remote hopes of a miracle. Except that, personally,
I'd rather not pin my hopes on anything that involves winning at Burnley, but there you go.
The second half offered improved entertainment but, sadly, no goals. We've seen many, many goalless
draws over the course of the season - this was vastly superior to most of them, thank heavens. We did at least
go out with all our guns blazing. With our strike-force, "all pea-shooters blazing" might be more appropriate...
There were chances at both ends, yet the best ones continued to fall to the away side. Chamberlain had to
make further saves, tipping another header over the bar and grabbing the ball from a striker's feet as a goal on the
break appeared certain, while Bazeley had to head off the line as we failed to defend effectively at a corner.
At the Vic Road end, Bazeley was doing his best to make up for the absence of Stuart Slater and, although
we continued to attack with an air of desperation about us, there were occasions when we looked dangerous.
The Bury keeper had to pull of a good save to push a rising drive from (oh look, it's...) Richard Johnson past the post and his defenders
did well to block a goal-bound header by (surprise!) Johnson after a cross had been fumbled.
The replacement of Gifton Noel-Williams, who'd looked badly in need of a summer's rest after his momentous season,
by Kevin Phillips gave us added sharpness, something that we tended to waste by pumping long balls up towards
the strikers. Even then, though, Phillips managed to wriggle his way through the defence and fire in a shot that
skimmed narrowly wide.
There was one talking point prior to the penalty, although 'talking point' might be the wrong phrase since no-one else, including
the referee, appeared to see it. It involved Richard Johnson, as most things do at present, and the Bury number eight. They got in a
bit of tangle after a challenge and, while the ball was played out onto the right wing, the Bury player took a hefty kick at Johnson's ankles. Being the only
one to spot the incident, this left me in the slightly unusual position of standing up in the middle of the Vic Road end, screaming
abuse at the referee while everyone around me wondered what I was getting so annoyed about. Bearing in mind that we've had two players
(rightly) sent off in the last week, it would be nice to see such justice applied when we're the victims. Especially since Johnno had
already been booked and therefore couldn't exact revenge...
If anything summed up this season's games, it was the sight of Bury players taking the ball to the corner flag in order
to preserve a goalless scoreline. After the number of sides that have come to Vicarage Road in search of a point (and have
frequently left with all three), that seems rather appropriate.
Even the gift of a penalty right at the death couldn't bring us the win we needed. Phillips looked up and played the ball in to
pick up a fine forward run by (yep, you've guessed it...) Richard Johnson and he was tripped while attempting to get into a
shooting position. Tommy Mooney took the responsibility and hit a low shot to the keeper's left - it wasn't a great
penalty, far too close to the middle of the goal, and it was blocked by the keeper's body.
Ultimately, the win probably wouldn't have made much difference at 4:45 next Saturday and Mooney mustn't
feel responsible for our failure to secure promotion. His tears were touching but mis-placed - as our top scorer, it's undeniable
that he's done more than his fair share this season.
At the start of the campaign, we all said that the coming months would be judged on the ability to get back into
the First Division. Nothing else mattered. In that case, the 96/97 season has been a failure. And, for anyone
who's been to the games, it's been a bloody dreary failure. For now, we have to sit and watch others
rejoice in the fulfilment of their dreams - Barnsley's rise to the Premiership and, fingers-crossed-touch-wood-oh-god-let-it-happen,
Brighton's survival as a Football League club.
But the takeover announcement pre-empts any post-mortem that I might carry out here. The last disappointment of the
Petchey reign is now behind us. A new chapter in the history of Watford Football Club starts next season...
Episode IV: A New Hope
Report by Nick Grundy
Sod the game; we all know what the important thing to come out of
this one was - Elton John's return to the club (and Uncle Jack's
departure). Having said that, this result did put paid to our final
playoff hopes; unless all the other teams involved lose all their games
and we beat Burnley by 24 goals (or more) we'll be heading off to exotic
Carlisle and Grimsby next season.
But we played okay. I freely admit that we didn't create many
chances blah blah blah, but we did create enough to have won this game
by a goal or (unusually) two. The first half was relatively uneventful; I
for one was far too busy rejoicing in the departure of the odious Petchey
to pay too much attention to what was going on on the field, but I do
recall Alec Chamberlain making a great reflex save from a (shockingly
badly defended) header from six yards out, and Johnno and Penrice
producing one of the best displays from a Watford central midfield pairing
this season - Johnson wasn't quite on the same form as against
Chesterfield, but he caught the eye nonetheless, while Porno played a lot
deeper than he has done, and "pulled the strings in midfield" - or rather,
passed forward quite well and got a number of telling passes in.
Bazeley and Easton, too, looked on form on the flanks; Clint in
particular had some lovely little flicks and touches, especially second
half, while Baze looked hungry for his place, possibly because he needs to
be! I do think the takeover had a markedly positive effect on the players
- now that they know what's going on they know that they have more
financial security and the chance to play in a strengthened side, but also
that they're playing for their places.
Elsewhere, Steve Palmer had an inspired game at the back; he made
two vital goal line clearances, one from a free kick first half which he
then had to clear again when it was fired back in from an acute angle, and
a second half one following a corner. Both centre backs looked a lot more
willing to pass the ball around, too, and Chamberlain tended to play the
ball short to them when he could. The only real disappointment was Gifton,
who had a bloody awful game - his first touch especially was shocking and
he couldn't hold the ball up at all.
Anyway, the first half saw chances at both ends, the best of which
fell to Bury. Second half, though, we took the game to them a lot more,
and had the chances to win it. What was most pleasing about this game was
that we seemed to stick to tactics a lot more than we have done; for
example against Wycombe at home, we were passing really well for the first
ten minutes or so and then fell apart: on Saturday we stuck at it and for
long spells looked a good passing team.
The real catalyst for our second half improvement was the
introduction of SuperKev for Gifton; he looked very sharp indeed, and
provided an excellent chance when he headed a ball down straight into
Mooney's path shortly after coming on. It didn't look like he got
the best of connections on it, though, and it went a foot or so wide.
Then, carrying the ball forward himself, Phillips had a go from the left
hand side of the box, but the shot again went inches wide with Kiely
Bury's unbelievably fat strikers didn't get many chances second
half, and quite how tub o'lard Jepson has scored so many goals is beyond
me, unless perhaps he normally eats one of the opposition defence at half
time to make things easier. Oh, where was I - about time for the penalty,
really. I can't remember who won it, but it was a clear-cut decision - I
was at most five metres away - and Tommy Mooney stepped up to take it.
Before I go on I should mention that Gary Penrice looked keen to hit it,
but I don't think we should blame Mooney for missing; he obviously had a
bit of a rush of blood to the head and, instead of hammering it left,
tried to blast it; it went low and slightly to Kiely's right, but he
blocked it well. It's a measure of how hard Tommy hit it that it rebounded
out of the area off the 'keeper's body.
It was, at the time, enormously disappointing - it would have been
very fitting to have beaten the champions to mark Elton's return, but all
in all Saturday was a success. I couldn't help feeling, though, as the
Bury fans celebrated at the other end, that it should have been us. Oh
well. Look on the bright side. Bye bye, Petchey, bye bye, Petchey...
Report by Ian Lay
A mixture of emotions were experienced at the Vic on Saturday afternoon.
The joy of knowing that Elton John has bought back the club with his
consortium, that he is to be the new chairman, rather overshadowed a
game which finally put paid to our slim play-off hopes.
As we look back on the last seven months or so, I keep feeling that if some
of those "if only" situations had come out differently we might be
looking at Division One football next season.
If only we had signed Keith Scott. Certainly our cause would have
benefited from a striker with his experience. But, unfortunately, no
money available from Mr. Petchey.
If only Stuart Slater hadn't been out so long with tendonitis.
If only Craig Ramage had been allowed to go to Grimsby.
(I know the Piemaster's fan club is bound to get on my back for this,
but hey, who gives a smeg. As Holly once said "I'm sharp, I'm kicking
There are plenty more, but I won't bore you with the list.
In a season there are many turning factors and many moments which you
look at and say "that could have changed our season" but in the end it
is all hypothetical. Because it didn't happen and never will. Unless
someone happens to have a time machine at the club!
But with the return of Elton John to join up again with Graham Taylor
are we not seeing a kind of time machine in action? It certainly looks
that way. But whether past glories can be re-visited is a question I don't
think anyone can answer. I do hope that everybody doesn't get to
excited. There is no magic wand that can be waved to make things great
again. We will still have to be patient. But now we hopefully have
some money, and with that I have a better feeling inside me than I did
at the beginning of this season.
As for the game, we should have won, but probably over the ninety minutes
Bury deserved the draw. They had a couple of chances cleared off the
line but we had more of the play.
I can't remember too much I'm afraid. The excitement of Elton's return
and too much alcohol during the evening have clouded the mind but, for
what it's worth, I remember Johnson having a header just wide in the
first half after good work from Gibbs and Bazeley on the right. Mooney
forcing a good save from the keeper. Phillips and Mooney having shots
just past the post in the second half. The former's was very unlucky
since he had gone past three defenders to create the chance.
There was more than this obviously, but I'll leave the Editor to fill in
the blanks in his report.
Alec Chamberlain deputising for the injured Miller pulled of a wonderful
one handed reflex save in the first half. It would have been a certain
goal and it was this and a few other telling saves that made me think he
was 'man of the match'.
The rest generally had good games, apart from Gifton who didn't look
up for it. His control was lacking and the close marking he was getting
was obviously unsettling him.
The only other one who was a cut above the rest was Johnson. He
continued his excellent run of performances with guts, determination and
vision. It is very nice to see a player playing the ball inside to feet
on the edge of the box than continually sending out to the wing with the
wide man's only option is to pass it back to the person who passed it to
So, no play-offs this year unless we can score 25 goals in one game!
But a re-newed sense of optimism is certainly there. Let's hope we can
return to those wonderful days which we hold with fond memory. However,
let's not hold our breath. Even though now people will expect, even
more so than this season, that we get promoted, there is nothing certain
in this world. Money doesn't guarantee you success. But it does help.