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Nationwide League Division 2, 27/8/96
Watford 0(0)
Team: *Miller 4*, Page 1, Porter 1, Palmer 1, Millen 1, C Johnson 2, Bazeley 3, Andrews 2, White 1, R Johnson 1, Mooney 1
Subs: Gibbs, Penrice, Lowndes (for Andrews) 2
Plymouth Argyle 2(1)
Scorers: Billy (32), Littlejohn (79)
The lowest ebb
Report by Ian Grant

I'll give the first words to Kate. "F**king shit", that's her match report. I think she's being a bit generous, to be quite honest. This was not just shit, this was shit with bells and knobs and flashing lights and big red cherries on top.

I'd rather not try to remember the last time I saw a Watford side look so utterly and completely devoid of ideas, inspiration, determination and intelligence. If I came into work and performed like those fools did last night, I'd be down the dole office, simple as that. Before I start on the tirade, I'd better say that this doesn't apply to all of the players - I can forgive some of them, if only because they're young enough to be given the benefit of the doubt. Wayne Andrews did the best he could with laughable service and had the Plymouth central defenders in a fair amount of distress on a few occasions. Nathan Lowndes came on for Andrews and managed to have our first shot on target of the second half (a tame effort but still a shot on target and, by definition, a hell of a lot better than anything anyone else had managed). Chris Johnson, who is still a junior, contributed a few neat touches early on and then looked out of his depth. For different reasons, Kevin Miller is completely excused and deserves a bloody medal for putting up with a defence that's forgotten how to defend. And I'm a generous man, so I'll let Darren Bazeley off as well, mainly because he was the only outfield player apart from Andrews to look genuinely dangerous.

The rest of 'em can go to the firing squad for all I care. Regular readers of these pages ought to know by now that I'm not particularly eager to slag off the team, that I tend to try and look on the bright side of things, that I like to mix criticism with praise where appropriate. Sod all that. This was beyond the pale, a performance so ludicrously poor it's difficult to believe that it actually happened. It's even more difficult to believe that I travelled all the way from Brighton to see it, although the bags under my eyes tend to indicate that I probably did.

I'll give you a brief run-down of events, for what it's worth. As at Bournemouth, as at Walsall, as against Millwall, we started relatively brightly. Playing towards the Vic Road end in the first half, there was a certain amount of purpose in our play - Andrews looked lively, Bazeley was doing damage on the right wing. It took Plymouth about fifteen minutes to work out that, for all our possession, we weren't actually doing anything to hurt them. They never looked back from that point and we were always in trouble. For a start, their right winger worked out that Gary Porter is not, in fact, a left back and started running rings around him, whipping in crosses that our defence had trouble dealing with. Then their left sided players discovered the same thing about Robert Page at right back (and, yes, I do know that Page has played a full back in the past but he looked like it was a complete shock to the system last night, as if we'd asked him to play in goal or something). The goal came from the left after half an hour - Page and Palmer had a nightmare, allowing two Plymouth players to beat them on the wing (Page actually clattered one of them - unfortunately it was the one without the ball and, if that doesn't sum up the incompetence of the evening, I don't know what does). When the cross came in, there were two strikers unmarked at the far post, one of whom hit a first-time volley past Miller. Even at Second Division level, if you defend like that you're going to get punished.

The rest of the half saw a certain amount of despair descend on Vicarage Road (apart from the travelling Plymouth fans, who had managed a very impressive turnout and were rather enjoying their evening with such charitable hosts). We saw a lot of the ball and did virtually nothing with it, whereas Plymouth made the most of the possession they had and attacked us with intelligence. Our best (only?) chance fell to Bazeley after Andrews had chased onto a through-ball but Baze wasted the opportunity by hesitating and his shot was blocked.

The second half offered nothing but misery. For the entire 45 minutes (and a bit that the referee added on, just to rub it in) our tactics consisted of long-balls up to Devon White in the hope that he'd win it in the air. The fact that he was playing up against central defenders who were as tall as he was and that he'd barely won a single header in the entire match didn't manage to dissuade us from our gameplan. At no point in the second half did we look even vaguely likely to score a goal.

Plymouth, on the other hand, were having no problems creating chances. Early in the half, Chris Johnson had to clear a header from the foot of the post from a corner (I don't think it was going in but better safe than sorry). From the resulting flag-kick, Miller produced a quite brilliant reflex save to tip over a diving header and keep us in the match (for a while, anyway). With ten minutes left (yes, I am pressing the fast forward button rather a lot here but you're not missing much, believe me), Plymouth made the points safe. Again, it was a crap goal to concede - created on the right wing this time, with the ball pulled back to another unmarked striker who slotted the ball neatly past Miller. After that, Plymouth relaxed a little and we could have had a goal - Mooney had a particularly good chance that was smothered by the keeper and we won a succession of corners, all of which amounted to precisely sod all.

Can I just point out that I like Kenny Jackett, that I hope he'll prove to be a fine manager in the future? That done, can I also point out that last night's fiasco was the most tactically laughable display I've seen for years? Some of it may well be down to the players, a lot of it must be down to the management - certainly, Kevin Miller didn't appear unduly happy to be asked to punt the ball towards Devon White all evening. What happened to the neat, concise passing we saw in the friendlies (all right, so Oxford wasn't up to much but Cambridge was better and at least you could see how the tactics would work)? Either the players aren't good enough to pass the ball properly against Second Division opposition or they're being instructed to play a style of football that went out with the Ice Age (and one, before you ask, that bears as much resemblance to Taylor's genius direct football as I do to Arnold Schwarzenegger). Whichever is true, it's abundantly clear that the tactics did not work last night - in fact, they were so narrow-minded that we missed obvious ways to hurt Plymouth elsewhere.

Devon White had an awful game. Even so, I can't say I hold him responsible - it was bloody obvious from the start that he wasn't winning headers, so why exactly did we spent ninety minutes hitting high balls up to him? The Plymouth defence must've thought Christmas had come early. For God's sake, defenders at this level are not going to be troubled by aimless long balls onto the head of a tall centre forward - they've played against that sort of bollocks for all their careers, it's not a problem. As a game-plan, it becomes even more foolish when you realise that we actually looked quite dangerous when we played the ball into Wayne Andrews' feet and let him turn or when we supplied Darren Bazeley with decent passes so that he could beat their full back and get crosses in. The Plymouth fans that I spoke to at the station were every bit as flabbergasted as I was that we took so little advantage of the players who were causing damage.

The midfield had little to do, other than watching the ball going over their heads. I am, however, glad that we've decided to play Bazeley as a winger, it's just a shame he never saw the ball. The defence just looked like an utter shambles and, again, I have to question exactly what we think we're doing in that department. Having Gary Porter at left back is unavoidable while Dominic Ludden's out, I'm afraid. But how long is it going to take to realise that Steve Palmer is not a bloody central defender! And that Robert Page is! And that Nigel Gibbs is about the best flamin' right back in this poxy division! Even then, though, I cannot excuse the slapdash nature of our defending - two goals conceded due to a total lack of marking in the box, two goals nearly conceded from set pieces. That is pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

So, a mixture of naive, up-and-under tactics, the kind of tactics that probably wouldn't win you a Sunday league game, and a dreadful team performance. Probably the lowest ebb I've seen Watford Football Club at in my lifetime. On Saturday, we played a side that has just been relegated and they looked like they were wounded, like a cornered rat or something (I'm talking about Millwall here, not us); last night, we played a side that has just been promoted and they were well up for it, rising to the occasion. We lost to both of them and we deserved fact, we really should have been beaten more heavily last night. If we play the same way at Crewe, we probably will be.

I've never chanted "what a load of rubbish" at my team and I suspect that I never will. But that was the way I felt inside last night. It was only the company of other fans on the journey back - Plymouth fans happy with the victory (and thanks for not gloating too much), Brighton fans on the way back from getting thrashed by Barnet - that made it seem bearable, really.

At the end, Kevin Miller was the only player to turn and applaud the Watford fans. That's probably because he was the only player we'd have applauded back, but it shows that he understands. Watford Football Club does not deserve fans like us. There were several thousand Watford fans who stayed in the ground until the final whistle - now there's bloody loyalty for you, anyone with half a brain would have left the team to disgrace themselves in private and saved themselves the suffering. Anyone with half a brain would think "sod 'em"...but I'll be back there for Walsall next week, along with everyone else.

Kate's right, it was f**king shit.

A lack of confidence
Report by Chris Lawton

Well it was my first visit to the Vic in a couple of seasons. The last time I sat in the North Stand you could see all the way down to the allotments. The ground, and the pitch, looked one if not two divisions out of place.

The game will be commented on elsewhere so I'll make some other constructive comments about Watford in general. Most of these thoughts came to me within the first twenty minutes of the match and the remaining seventy only enhanced them.

Let's start with on the pitch. Devon White is simply not up to the standard required. He lacks ball control, can't time his jumps and is slow. Quite why he is played I am not too sure. If the sum total of the pre-season training is trying to put the ball on Devon's head then Kenny should go now before we really get humiliated. The tactic was whoever got the ball had to place it on Devon's head where he would attempt to knock it down into the path of one of our players. It didn't work.What puzzles more is that the players didn't seem to notice this. Either they are such dedicated players that they won't go against the manager's word or they are so inept at the game that they should retire.

The other problem on this subject was the lack of variety at set pieces. Every time we went for Devon's head at the far post. Noone was prepared to attack the near post and draw a defender away. Inept management and players. Perhaps Kenny hasn't spelt it out to the players that they should add variety on the pitch - it was like watching robots.

Our moments of joy came when we played the ball on the ground. We ran at players and got the ball wide. This style of play was far more effective than the attempted 4-2-4 formation we played. Clearly this is the way to go. Our other two centre forwards Wayne Andrews and Nathan Lowndes, when he came on, look to be good players. I would like to see them both start the game on Saturday.

Now we come to the real crunch. The players won't take risks. So desparate are they to do well that a first time shot or pass is out of the question. In trying to be safe and patient they are making themselves vulnerable, finally resorting to a boot up to you know who. I got the distinct in impression that they need to score a hatful of goals in a home match. This would ease the pressure from the crowd and give the players confidence.

Talking of the crowd, they can be summed up in one word - fickle. I'm not quite sure what the majority of fans want. It seems to me that they can't make up their minds. When the ball is booted long they complain;when Watford keep possession for about a minute - albeit it had to go back as well as forwards - they complained. It is perhaps not suprising that the players won't try anything. It all comes back to confidence. There was one moment when the ball fell to Bazeley on the edge of the box. He didn't shoot first time for fear of missing and being scorned instead he brought it under control, messed it up, and was scorned by the crowd.

Blaming Petchey is not the answer - a cash injection doesn't guarantee a way out of the situation. It helps but you also need the right manager and still pick up the bargains.

That is my review/rant on the situation. The lower leagues are a marathon not a sprint and at the moment that damage isn't terminal. The fans need to encourage the players to have a go and take chances, where sensible, and not berate someone because they try something different and it doesn't work. The players should realise that are not preprogrammed robots and should use their brains whilst on the pitch.