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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 26/12/96
Watford 0(0)
Team: *Miller 4*, Gibbs 3, Robinson 2, Palmer 1, Millen 4, Page 3, Bazeley 2, Connolly 2, Penrice 2, Johnson 2, Slater 4
Subs: Noel-Williams (for Bazeley) 3, Andrews (for Slater) 3, Ward
Notts County 0(0)
What a waste of money
Report by Chris Lawton

Having not been to the Vic for a few months I thought that it couldn't get any worse than my last visit (Plymouth). How wrong I was. Defensively we looked as sound as Only Fools and Horses coming top in viewers ratings for Xmas TV. This is a good thing. Page is maturing very quickly and we will struggle to keep him at the end of the season. He is destined for bigger clubs.

Going forward we showed no invention, save for the odd moments. Between the two boxes great, in the opposition box - well we didn't really get the ball in there to find out.

We had two chances in the match - one in each half. In the first half Slater, who looks a different class, turned and beat a couple of men and but in a good shot which their keeper turned round the post. In the second half Gifton ran onto a through ball (although he looked at least a yard offside) and shot from the edge of the box only for it to be smoothered by the rapidly advancing keeper. In the follow up Andrews crashed the ball against the post and to safety. That was it from us.

Ten minutes from the end County should have scored but for a remarkable point blank reflex save from Miller. Great save - but only doing his job !

Frankly that was it. Penrice, contrary to popular opinion, was poor. Sure when he got into the game for 15 minutes after half time he looked untouchable - but sadly for the rest of the game he failed to impress. He has class but I fear he may go the same way as Ramage.

So fortunately on this uninspiring day I was able to waste my dad's money on this dreary performance. The pitch, admittedly, looked as though it had only just passed the inspection and County came for a draw but we should have won. Too many teams play for a draw at the Vic - we should have worked out how to beat it by now.

An honour and a privilege
Report by Ian Grant

"A day when we want to reward you," wrote Kenny Jackett in his programme notes. Well, I suppose it's the thought that counts...

Piss-poor. Again. The unbeaten run stretches back to the end of September but it's fooling no-one - we're treading water and everyone knows it. The fact that other sides are equally dismal is no kind of consolation - if anything, it's a reminder that this season is our big chance to get promoted and get the club back on the right track. Most of us are sick to death of hearing phrases like "a platform from which we can undoubtedly build", we're fed up of forever being promised better times ahead. I want better times NOW.

On this evidence, there aren't better times ahead. Despite being the proud owners of a squad that includes players of genuine quality (Kevin Miller, Robert Page, Gary Penrice, Stuart Slater, David Connolly), there's no sign that we're about to start making that bit of class count for something. Earlier in the season, with Devon White as the target man, we descended to everyone else's level; now, with no target man, we seem unable to raise ourselves above the mundane and predictable.

Kenny Jackett continues to try and change things around but the squad doesn't help him - in giving Gifton Noel-Williams a much-needed rest, he was forced to play two midgets up front and it didn't work. Gary Penrice spent most of his time dropping back into midfield, David Connolly did little to suggest that he's particularly bothered. The half-time substitutions lifted the team for a few minutes before we ran out of ideas, committed too many men forward in search of a goal and were nearly caught on the break as seems to be the pattern for home games at the moment.

The first half was abysmal. I've seen worse - on Saturday, to be precise - but that's not exactly a recommendation. For a while, it seemed likely that we'd find ourselves a goal down early on - Notts County came out looking sharper and fitter, giving our defence a few problems to deal with in the first few minutes.

It is, however, an honour and a privilege to describe a shot on target by a Watford player - savour the moment, it doesn't happen very often. It nearly happened a few times - Stuart Slater, the one Watford player to show any kind of vision, popped up on the right hand side of the penalty area to create one particularly good chance (and, no, I can't remember what happened - it is theoretically possible that the keeper had to make a save but only in the same way that life on Jupiter is theoretically possible). But the 'shot on goal' incident (t-shirts commemorating the event will shortly be available from the Hornet Shop) happened from, of all things, a free kick. Paul Robinson fired a long-range blaster into the wall, it took a mighty deflection and the County keeper had to make a save. With his hands. From one of our goal attempts. Crikey.

Other than that outburst of shocking caution-to-the-wind attacking (I hope Kenny had a quiet word of admonishment at half-time), it was very much business as usual. We ran around rather a lot, County chased after us until we gave the ball away and it was our turn to chase them around for a bit. All good family fun. Richard Johnson had a couple of shots from distance but, other than the Slater opportunity, we created nothing of any consequence.

Are you still reading this? Or have you noticed that I'm bored out of my tiny, Guinness-addled mind with trying to describe the inane drivel that passes for football at Vicarage Road these days and can't really be bothered to write a decent match report? I reckon everyone's taken one look at the scoreline at the top of the page and hit the 'back' button without further ado. I could talk about anything now, nobody'd notice. I could disclose the outrageous goings-on and, indeed, shenanigans at Kudos on Saturday night involving a certain (teetotal) member of the BSaD crew. I could show an embarrassing picture of me when I had really, really awful long hair about three years ago. I could slag off Dan's taste in music (again). I could just give up, forget about writing this report and watch agonisingly stretched-out 'Christmas specials' of comedy programmes that I don't like very much anyway (bah, humbug!)...

No. I will summon up my last bit of strength and make it through the second half. Because that's the kind of determination and spirit that made Britain what it is today. Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, we're going in...

The second half was more exciting than the first, in much the same way that Richard and Judy are more exciting than Anne and Nick. We took off Connolly and Bazeley at half-time, replacing them with Gifton Noel-Williams and Wayne Andrews, and, for all of about five minutes, we looked like scoring. In fact, we came very close indeed so my sarcasm is, for once, inappropriate. Gary Penrice found some space in midfield and slid a perfect pass into the feet of Noel-Williams, leaving him in the clear. Unfortunately, he rushed his goal attempt as the keeper advanced and it was saved with reasonable ease. However, the ball rebounded to Slater who, showing marvellous awareness, played it back to Gifton. With the keeper stranded, the sixteen year old thumped the ball towards goal and, somehow, it stayed out - the general consensus seems to be that it hit both posts then rebounded out.

Sadly, that was as good as it got. We pushed forward, covering pages 28 to 45 of "The BSaD Bumper Book of Completely Useless Set Pieces" in the process, and County were content to hit us on the break whenever possible. They came very close to nicking all the points as well - a last-ditch tackle by Keith Millen prevented one nasty-looking move before Kevin Miller pulled off the most astonishing save to preserve our unbeaten record. From one of our corners (what a bloody surprise), Notts County broke clear - they used the situation well, sending the ball out to Agana on the left and getting men into the box quickly. When the cross came in, it was perfect - right onto the head of an unmarked forward. His header was down and back across goal - Miller, who was diving in the opposite direction, somehow got a leg to it and deflected it away.

We did nothing to hint that a winner was in the offing - our passing was too tight and too predictable, our crossing was appalling, we didn't get enough bodies in the box, we allowed ourselves to be exposed at the back too often, the midfield disappeared for long periods, the service to the young forwards was lazy and hopeful. We managed a few tame efforts on goal - a header by Robert Page late on was the only on-target one that I can remember and it was straight at the keeper. We got what we deserved - a goalless draw against one of the bottom sides.

I could spend another few minutes writing about lack of investment and so on but there's no point - you've heard it all before and there's nothing new to add. This was another depressing, dispiriting afternoon and I don't want to dwell on it.

Bring on the Stockport...