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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 1/2/97
Watford 2(0)
Team: Miller 3, Bazeley 4, Gibbs 3, Palmer 3, Ward 3, Page 4, *Slater 5*, Andrews 2, Noel-Williams 3, Johnson 3, Armstrong 3
Subs: Penrice (for Andrews) 3, Simpson, Robinson
Scorers: Bazeley (50), Slater (65)
Rotherham United 0(0)
Nothing special
Report by Ian Lay

It's an old saying in football, but the relevance it has on Watford's season will have to be seen. This was a game of two halves. There you go, I've said it now..... where's the bucket!

For 45 minutes we flattered to deceive against a side that is bottom of the table and without an away win all season. We started brightly enough, forcing a succession of corners in the opening 15 minutes. We didn't really let Rotherham out of their own half in that period. But for all the pressure, we didn't really create ourselves a clear cut opening. This is the problem that has to be solved if we are to go up this year. We have to make our early pressure count more often, with a goal.

After weathering the early storm, Rotherham started to play some nice passing football. They forced Miller into a couple of useful saves. Nothing which would overstretch our generally underworked keeper, but he was busier in this game than he was in most of the previous 4 or 5 home matches. And that is a credit to Rotherham who came to Vicarage Road like a side that wasn't going to just try and defend and hold for the point. If some other teams this season had had the same attitude we may have seen some more entertaining games at the Vic.

As the half-time whistle blew it was difficult to say who was the promotion chasing team and who were the relegation candidates. This, however, changed in a second half where we started to realise some of our potential.

When the goal came it was simple, if a little scrappy. Some good work by Slater and Armstrong on the left allowed latter to cut inside and send over a low cross which either Gifton missed or dummied. I'm not sure which. Anyway, Bazeley was the first to react to stab a close range shot at their keeper. Pilkington didn't gather it properly and Bazeley pounced at the second attempt to nudge the ball under the keeper's body and over the line. It was wasn't very pretty, but it knocked the stuffing out of Rotherham who had battled hard. If the first goal was a messy affair, the second was pure class. Who played the initial ball, I'm not sure. Teletext says it was Palmer. The Sun says it was Page. I though it might be Gibbs, so I'll make a compromise and say it was Luther. The ball had been played to one of the Rotherham midfield, but Andrews managed to get a foot to the ball and then hold off their player to knock the ball back to Luther. Our coach then sent a beautiful 40 yard ball into Slater, who chested the ball down and hit a first volley from 20 yards over Pilkington and into the top corner. It was pure skill. A goal Luther himself would have been proud of.

That was the end of Rotherham. They had one chance a little later on but nothing to worry Miller too much. We could and should have had a third goal. Penrice, who had come on for Andrews, had the ball in the back of the net only for the attempt to be ruled offside, but he didn't look offside to me or anybody else who was sitting with me.

The defence played well again. Miller was a little busier than normal but handled everything with his normal confidence. The only blot on his copy book was his kicking (no surprise there!!). Which was generally pretty bad.

Ward had another sound game and looks decent cover for Millen. Page was excellent as usual and Gibbs had his normal steady game. Though some of his passes were a bit off, he did make many timely tackles. Bazeley had an excellent game and was nearly my man of the match. His crossing was much better, and when he cut inside from the wing he looked genuinely dangerous. His defending was also sound.

In the midfield Palmer was steady and Johnson unusually competent. The latter playing some nice passes which rarely went astray. Armstrong, who had a poor first half, played much better in the second, linking up particular well with Slater on many occasions. Talking of Stuart, he was superb. Just edging out the also very impressive Bazeley for my man of the match. His control and skill were at a level you come to expect from the man. But the noticeable thing now is that he looks fitter and holds off opposing players much better than he did. And with the free role he had in the second half he caused the Rotherham defence no end of problems. His goal speaks for itself. Without doubt a contender for Goal of the Season.

Up front, Andrews had a disappointing afternoon and it was no surprise when he was substituted. To be honest, you have to have had a bad afternoon when you rate lower than Johnson!!! Sorry Richard!

Andrews reminds me a little of Rod Thomas when he gets the ball. The head goes down and he tries to dribble around bits of grass rather than the oppo. But he's got time on his hands and I'm sure he'll make it. Gifton had a fair game. He was unlucky not to score when he hit a post late in the game. It is still amazing to think that this guy is not even 17. Yet he is a dad and plays in the first team for Watford. But he can't watch a XXX movie or had an alcoholic drink at a pub. Well not legally anyway!

Generally, this was a good performance. But it was nothing special. With no disrespect intended, you are expected to beat teams like Rotherham. Particularly at home. But with a record of 13 draws in the last 15 games nothing is certain at the moment. Except maybe a draw!! Anyway three points won which is the most important thing and with some of the other teams faltering around us it more important than ever to keep getting points, grind out results and not worry if it is pretty or not.

With players like Porter, Ramage and particularly Phillips looking to be back in the side soon, things are looking a little brighter. I said early on in the season when we knew that this trio would not be back until the new year, that if we were in contention when they returned that we would have every chance of going straight back up. I don't change my view. I still believe that this is the case.

One last thing. It was great to meet some of the people from the list at the Vic on Saturday at the top of the F. I won't name names but you know who you are. Besides I'd would only expose my terrible memory for names and say how nice it was to meet Liam Grant or something like that.

Memorable last twenty minutes
Report by Ian Grant

For nearly two thirds of this match, we were indistinguishable from a side that's bottom of Division Two and hasn't won away all season. For one third, we absolutely murdered them. Such is the confidence problem at Watford - we have the players, we have the quality, we just don't seem to believe in ourselves enough.

Throughout a staggeringly ordinary first half, Rotherham played like needed the points more than we did. Sure, we'd begun the game at a ferocious pace, forcing early corners and using the buzzing presence of Wayne Andrews to good effect, but we didn't make it count for anything and soon became discouraged. After the first fifteen minutes, we were waiting for half time and a kick up the rear from Kenny Jackett.

Not for the first time, we failed to make the opposition keeper do any work in the opening forty-five minutes. Long range shots from the likes of Steve Palmer and Richard Johnson were a sign that we were beginning to run out of ideas - when Robert Page decided to try his luck with a half-volley from miles out, it really was time for a re-think. Too often we lacked width, too often we lacked penetration, too often we passed the buck in the hope that someone else would manage something special to open up the Rotherham defence. That piece of individual inspiration nearly arrived when Andrews took on his marker, beating him for pace, and sent a shot screaming over the bar - most of the time, though, Rotherham were more than comfortable in dealing with our efforts.

The away side created a couple of decent openings themselves, making Kevin Miller the busier keeper before the interval. He was never forced to make an outstanding save but he did have to react well to push away a low shot from inside the box, as our defence left a Rotherham striker with a clear sight of goal. Later in the half, he was again called into action, diving to catch a shot from outside the area and making it look easier than it probably was.

The half-time boos were probably undeserved. But they did illustrate the growing impatience of Watford fans - this was merely a nondescript performance and we've seen far too many of those this season, particularly against struggling sides. To expect an easy victory over Rotherham would've been naive, especially bearing in mind the full-blooded stalemate in the away game, and you have to give some credit to the visitors for a whole-hearted display, yet it's still difficult to accept even minor disappointments at Second Division level.

The second half started with little apparent change to the pattern of the game. Indeed, Darren Bazeley's goal came at a time when impatience was really starting to set in - we were territorially dominant but things just weren't happening around the box. Fortunately, we stuck to our task and the goal, although not attractive to the eye, was a reward for our determination. Craig Armstrong, who'd had a subdued game up to that point, hit a glorious cross (the kind that gets Ron Atkinson wetting himself with excitement, played between defenders and goalkeeper for the strikers to attack) which evaded Gifton Noel-Williams' attempt at a shot. Bazeley got in front of his marker and, despite seeing his first effort brilliantly saved by the keeper, forced the ball over the line at the second attempt.

That goal ought to have killed Rotherham off. It didn't. Whether through lack of concentration or bad organisation, they were gifted the best chance of the match within a couple of minutes of Bazeley's goal. Thankfully, the striker missed a free header at the far post, sending his attempt wastefully wide, and we were able to build on our single goal advantage.

For the remainder of the game, we were the only side in it. It took a while to assert ourselves, with Rotherham still battling hard and our young front pairing looking a little lightweight, but we finally managed to create some chances. Wayne Andrews hit the foot of the post with a first-time volley from a corner - quite how he was left to lurk unmarked at the far post is for Rotherham's manager to sort out but he was unlucky not to score. Darren Bazeley also forced the keeper into his best save of the afternoon to tip over a shot that was bound for the top corner.

When it finally came, the second goal was exquisite. If it doesn't win Goal of the Season, there ought to be some sort of inquiry. Stuart Slater, who'd had a quiet first half but was starting to give the Rotherham defence a seriously hard time, drifted into space between two defenders as one of our attacks broke down. He was found by a perfect pass from deep. As the ball dropped outside the box, he brought it down and, in one movement, hit the sweetest volley over the helpless keeper. It took me a moment to be convinced that the goal actually stood - it was the kind of finish that you see strikers execute when they've just been caught offside and want to demonstrate that they would've scored had they been allowed to play on. It was a beautiful goal all-round - the awareness of space, the ball-control, the clinical accuracy of the strike.

It's not merely that Stuart Slater has the quality to shine at this level, it's that he appears willing to put in the effort. When he turned down Leicester to sign for Watford, it was because he wanted regular first team football rather than a better-paid place in a reserve team - he may be using our club as a spring-board to resurrect his injury-disrupted career but, as long as he puts in performances like this, he's more than welcome to do so. As the game wore on, Slater tore the Rotherham defence to shreds, popping up on both wings to support Armstrong and the rampant Bazeley, then finding himself in the box to volley just wide of the post late on. As we found out earlier in the season with our pathetic attempts at a long ball game, you can only achieve so much with brute force in the Second Division - vision and movement provide the key to winning games and Slater has an irresistible command of both.

Rotherham fell apart after the second goal and, finally, began to look like a bottom-of-the-table side. Sides with more ruthless attacks that ours will (and have) score a lot of goals against a defence that looks disconsolate and disorganised. If there's one problem with Gifton Noel-Williams' game at the moment, it's his tendency to stand watching when crosses are coming in and, to be honest, I did feel that we missed Devon White towards the end - we needed someone to finish Rotherham off. Gary Penrice nearly did the job during an excellent substitute appearance - aside from some fine creative support play around the box, he was unlucky to see a close range effort disallowed for offside near the end.

Thankfully, people will remember this game for the last twenty minutes and Slater's goal. They'll remember some genuinely exciting attacking play, a Watford side showing considerable verve, using the full width of the pitch and comprehensively beating a poor Rotherham team. That's the Watford we want to see and, with the quality of some of the players at our disposal, it's the Watford we ought to be seeing more of.

I should bloody hope so too
Report by Nick Grundy

This game started, somewhat worryingly, in the same way as Wycombe. I missed kick-off (only by about 30 seconds, though - it was because of an excessively long queue at the ticket office - but at least I now know I'm going to City), and we kicked off as if we'd actually started to realise that we needed to win games rather than break records for mediocrity.

The opening twenty minutes were, as I say, really good; it rapidly became apparent that KJ was trying out a new formation, which basically involved playing 5-3-2 with Bazeley and Armstrong as wing-backs, Gibbs at sweeper, and Slater playing some sort of McManaman-esque floating role behind the front two. Rather surprisingly, it even worked; Armstrong in particular played far better than against Luton; he'd (almost) cut out those shite dull percentage balls down the left, and he timed his runs superbly. Gibbs looked good as a sweeper; he was unspectacular but good at organising the others, and I feel that he was the main reason that Ward cut out the unforced errors from his game. Gibbs is a very good man to have just to calm things down and help the younger players through, and he never looks really flustered.

Anyway, enough pseudo-managerisms. They had very little pressure for the first twenty minutes while we (as we'd done for while against Oxford in the second half) played mostly in their third of the field. We always look a lot more confident when we've managed to do this for a few minutes, and we sustained the pressure well. Having said this, I can't think of any really good chances we had; at one point Johnson put a shot through a bunch of players, but it lacked the usual venom he puts on them and Pilkington (where's our man Cherry?) got down to it fairly easily. Other than that, though, I can't think of any outstanding chances. Wayne Andrews broke through well, but fired over from just inside the area on the right hand side, but the other good chance of the half fell to Rotherham, with the ball being laid across the area to be hit by their left midfielder from about eight yards. Miller pulled off a good block, and Gibbs was on hand to push it behind.

About twenty minutes in, the parallels with the Wycombe game were, horribly, continued. We decided to start playing like poo. Bazeley, in particular, who had looked bloody awful even when everyone else was playing well, decided to fail to defend at all, and got shouted out by Robert/bie Page several times as a result. Slater realised that he'd been switching sides too much, and making life a bit tricky for the Rotherham defence, so he played a sort of very bad defensive midfield role for the rest of the half and gave the ball away repeatedly, while Noel-Williams and Andrews just continued to be fouled whenever the ball came near them. The referee was awful. I mean, I'm sorry to go on and on about this, and I thought I'd got it all out of my system, but this guy actually found a way to irritate me even more than any of the others. He smiled. He'd give a free kick the wrong way, ignore blatant trips/shirt-pulling/holding, and smile. I was practically tearing my hair out in frustration at not having anything to throw at him (joke), especially in the second half.

And the linesman was a twat - the ball went for a goal kick and Miller gestured to the linesman, who was standing - ooooh, four feet away from the ball? - to throw it over. The linesman (assistant referee indeed) just shrugged at him and ran off up the line. Smiling. As someone just in front of me said, f**king jobsworth ***t. Either these people are there to encourage open, attractive and foul-free football or they're not, and keeping the ball in play for as long as possible and protecting exciting teenage strikers feature significantly higher on my list than smiling inanely and patronisingly at several thousand people who're calling you a wanker.

Anyway, back to the game. That's about it for the first half - we were crap until the break, whereupon we started playing again. Everyone looked good; Palmer had a couple of shots which went close - one in particular was deflected over when heading for the top corner, and the two forwards looked less intimidated. Understandably, though, we only really started playing with confidence after the first goal.

It arrived courtesy of some excellent work by Armstrong down the left. Against Luton, I felt he looked average at best; his crossing was good, he could shoot, but he didn't look willing to take players on. This continued today, except that the better timing on his runs meant that he had a bit of space to control the ball, and with it at feet he looked good - he didn't give it away that I can think of, his passing from defence and with the midfield was quality, and his crosses were great. It was from one of these that Bazeley scored; Armstrong whipped it over towards the penalty spot where Andrews, a la Luton, swung at it and missed, but it dropped for Bazeley to shoot from eight yards. Pilkington parried his first effort, but he was on hand to tuck the rebound away. It was plain sailing from there on in, and Darren even started to look good coming forward. The second goal was among the sweetest I've seen all season (in Watford games, that is). Johnno's against Burnley was probably better struck, but not as - well, sweet. A long pass over the top from - well, I thought Bazeley, but the mailing list claims Page and Ceefax Palmer, so take your pick - was latched onto by a beautifully timed run from Stuart Slater, who came through the middle totally unmarked. He chested it down and, before it touched the ground, lofted it over the advancing Pilkington and under the bar - it was a brilliant piece of finishing and a joy to behold.

We could have had three or four; with the defence in fine form - Ward in particular (winning his third clean sheet in three senior appearances, incidentally) looked a lot less error-prone than against Luton, and Page was his usual impeccable self. The best thing about the defence, though , was Miller's cunning tactical ploy to avoid being sold. He chose today to illustrate to Kenny Dalglish just how awfully he can kick, putting goal-kicks either in the crowd or to a Rotherham player in midfield at ankle height. What loyalty, what devotion to the club - we love you, Kev. Andrews wins the 'most unlucky player of the day' award. He was perfectly placed about ten yards out when a corner was swung over, but his sweetly-struck shot hit the foot of the post and was cleared. Gifton had a few good runs, too, while Gary Penrice, who came on for Andrews for the last fifteen/twenty minutes, looked superb.

He had the ball in the net with his first touch, but it was ruled out for some reason, quite possibly the fact that Noel-Williams had been held back shortly beforehand. He gave us the option of holding the ball up; he never looks hurried in possession and his awareness is excellent. What let him down was a tendency by the midfield and defence to drop too deep when we were ahead, allowing Rotherham back into the game. They actually had some good chances second half, too - one free header which should have gone in, and an air shot when unmarked in particular could have been dangerous. Their number 14 - some foreign blokey who the program said was on loan - looked lively as well, but was effectively and - erm - uncompromisingly - marked by Page. Stuart Slater, having scored a blinder, then missed from about six yards. Again, Armstrong was the provider, a deep cross finding Slater in yards of space at the back post. He had time to take it down and make sure, but hit it first time, and it went across the goalmouth and about a foot wide.

All in all, this was a better performance than against Luton, and bits of it were excellent, but the inconsistency is still a worry. Against better teams, if we play like crap for half the game we'll be lucky to draw, and by better teams I mean not only the likes of Man City, but the more immediate concerns of top-half second division sides who we have to start beating. Having said that, this was the second promising home game in a row, so if we can get some sort of run going then our away record is good enough to ensure we get back up to the top of the table - if we continue beating the bottom sides. Bring on Manchester City, but more importantly stay on course for promotion.