Main Menu
What's New
96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 19/11/96
Watford 1(0)
Team: Miller 4, Gibbs 4, Robinson 4, Easton 2, Millen 3, Palmer 4, Bazeley 2, Connolly 2, Andrews 2, Johnson 2, Mooney 1
Subs: Noel-Williams (for Andrews) 3, White, *Penrice (for Easton) 5*
Scorers: Connolly (89)
Wycombe Wanderers 0(0)
They wuz robbed!
Report by Ian Grant

Woken by the rain lashing against my window and then walking to work in conditions that resembled someone emptying a bucket of ice cold water over my head, I had hoped just a little bit that this game would be called off. Preferably before I embarked on the usual two hour trek from Brighton, natch. I think we could all do with a bit of a rest - we're not even halfway yet and this season already seems to have lasted an eternity.

On this evidence, though, it'll be longer than an eternity. This was dreadful. Dismal, dismal, DISMAL! The fact that we somehow came away with all three points to take us up to second place doesn't really make it that much better, to be honest, although it does rather illustrate the monstrous mediocrity of this division. You can look at it one of two ways - "despite playing poorly, we're still picking up points" or "sooner or later, our luck's going to run out". I'll leave you to make your own minds up...

Despite what I've just said, this match also contained a period that I would consider to be the best football I've seen from Watford so far this season. It didn't last long but it was there and it set a standard that we have to look to achieve more often. In the first ten minutes, shooting towards the Vic Road end, we played pass-and-move football that was absolutely unrecognisable from the long-ball scrappiness we've seen too much of lately. We played neat and concise yet penetrating passes into the strikers' feet; we used the width of the pitch and brought our full backs into play; we showed imagination in looking for ways to break down the Wycombe defence; we showed a bit of genuine quality.

What brought all this on, you might ask. I can only assume that playing with two small strikers in David Connolly and Wayne Andrews made the rest of the players think about what they were doing. For once, seeing the defenders belt the ball forward in the hope that a Watford player would work a miracle was the exception rather than the rule. Instrumental in this period were Clint Easton and Paul Robinson. Easton put himself about in the midfield, looked for the ball and distributed it intelligently - sounds easy, I know, but we just haven't had anyone doing that recently. Robinson came up with ten minutes of play which, were there an award for such a thing, would probably prove to be the best ten minutes a Watford player will have this season. He won tackles (one absolutely ferocious challenge by the corner flag, in a position where most players would stand off and attempt to stop the defender clearing the ball); he passed the ball with vision (the best pass of the entire match - a glorious, low, sweeping ball through the midfield to set up a right wing attack); he even had a shot (a blistering effort from absolutely miles out that went a couple of feet wide). If he can learn to sustain that kind of performance over a longer period, he'll be as tremendous a prospect as any of the youngsters we've produced.

Even then, we didn't create any great chances during that opening spell - we just looked like we could open up the Wycombe defence at any moment. The closest we got was that Robinson shot and an effort from Darren Bazeley that was virtually identical to his goal on Sunday and curled over the angle of post and bar.

If anything, the undeniable quality of the first ten minutes made the rest of the game even more unbearable. We began to lose our way and our confidence, Wycombe sensed that perhaps they'd weathered the storm. That was proved when Kevin Miller had to make a fine, diving save to block a powerful shot from the edge of the area. Suddenly the inspiration was gone - Easton faded quickly, making mistakes and then disappearing into his shell; Robinson became occupied with defensive duties; the strikers were marooned with inadequate service; the fans became restless. It's a familiar pattern, unfortunately.

For the rest of the first half, we battled gamely but rarely looked like making any impact around the box. Wycombe weren't much better but, as a side that had set out to keep men behind the ball and had even started time wasting after about half an hour, they didn't necessarily need to be - and they did force Miller into another tremendous save, diving low to his right to push a potent drive past the post. For our part, we tested the Wycombe keeper just once - a Connolly header at the far post that required a quick reaction.

If the first half was all about early promise falling foul of the seemingly-permanent lack of confidence, then the second was just dire. A double substitution at half time (Gifton Noel-Williams for Andrews, who may well have taken a knock, and Gary Penrice for Easton) was a brave move by Kenny Jackett and probably the right one too - unfortunately, we arguably needed to replace more than two players.

On the right, Bazeley was having a distinctly average evening - taking on his full-back with only very limited success and rarely linking up with his colleagues to any worthwhile effect. Over the other side, Tommy Mooney, who has yet to find any kind of form so far this season, was having an absolute stinker. Connolly looked off the pace yet again. So, while our defence was coping comfortably with most eventualities, we carried little or no threat up front. Noel-Williams, to his credit, battled hard for his side but he was outnumbered by defenders and undone by dreadful service.

Only Penrice showed any kind of imagination, any kind of quality. Time and again, he'd pull back to collect the ball from Kevin Miller (intelligence, y'see, since a long punt upfield from Miller would just gift Wycombe possession), look up and see players in yellow shirts just standing there, waiting for him to do something special. In the end, he was trying to do everything - win the ball, pass it, cross it, get in the box - and it just wasn't possible. I did my throat in by bellowing "MOVE FOR HIM! F***ING MOVE!" every time he got the ball...

Wycombe, perhaps surprisingly, seemed unwilling to take advantage of the bad time we were having. They continued to waste time - foolishly, since the game was there for the winning - and failed to create anything of note, apart from a shooting chance from the edge of the area which was wasted with an off-target curler. Richard Johnson's sliced shot, hurtling into the Rookery, was our first noteworthy attempt of the second half - that was with about twenty minutes left. It was dreadful stuff, although Wycombe can rightly claim that they had a fair amount of possession and controlled the game with relatively little difficulty (especially bearing in mind the league positions of the two clubs).

The game appeared to be slowly grinding to a conclusion. We picked up the pace a little in the last ten minutes, again inspired by the urgency injected by Penrice, but it appeared to be having only a marginal effect. With a couple of minutes to go, Penrice headed a good chance wide (I completely missed, or forgot about, it but was reminded afterwards) and that seemed to be our last hope.

And then, out of nowhere, our best move since the first ten minutes and a winning goal. Penrice, doing Mooney's job, won the ball on the left wing and threaded a neat pass into Noel-Williams' feet. Gifton used his strength to run between two defenders and squared a excellent ball to Connolly on the right side of the box. Connolly squeezed a shot underneath the keeper and into the bottom corner. We'd got out of jail.

Let's face it - we were thirty seconds away from being booed off the pitch. The last minute winner is fine and all that but for God's sake don't let's get complacent about it - for the vast majority of this match, we struggled to create anything against the bottom team. That has to be a cause for concern. Despite moving to second in the table, we just don't look like a confident side.

As for Wycombe, they was robbed but perhaps it was their fault - this was a game they could have won, if they'd been prepared to commit themselves forward a bit more. That emphasises the similarities between most teams in this division - we have to get out at the first attempt, otherwise, with the likely departures of certain key players, we're going to be sucked into lower division life. That just doesn't bear thinking about...

Positive thinking
Report by Nick Grundy

This was, without wishing to be flippant, a game of two halves. Or perhaps, given the simply awful quality of play after the break, one half. For the first 45 minutes, we played really rather well; for the first time this season we played two little people - Connolly and Andrews - up front, and this meant (horror!) that we were forced to pass the ball rather than simply clouting it up for Devon or Gifton to win in the air.

And, thankfully, we did it really quite well. We had the vast majority of possession for the first half, and our ability to keep the ball - especially in midfield - was unusually good. Paul Robinson was the first really memorable thing about the game. A minute or two in, he received the ball on the left hand side, level with the penalty area and with two Wycombe defenders in front of him. He pushed the ball past them, but one of the defenders got to the ball before he did and tried to shield it so it would run for a goal kick. Our Paul, though, was having none of this. He hared after the ball and slid in with a legitimate but also murderously hard tackle which not only won the ball but left the Wycombe player with mild concussion (probably), and swung the ball into the box. I'm afraid I was so lost in admiration for the sheer ferocity of the tackle that I didn't really see the cross.

One thing we didn't really do was create chances, however. Good though the likes of Clint Easton are, he isn't really experienced enough to do all the attacking midfield work, given that Richard Johnson - well - isn't the most creative of players. Easton did look good, though. He hasn't looked bad in the games I've seen him play so far - Brentford and Northampton (on telly, I'm afraid), and he looks to be getting used to the pace more now. However, our best first half chances came from the flanks; Darren Bazeley cut in from the right and tried to do another Northampton, but although it dipped enough, his left-footer was a fraction wide of the post. While were on the subject, if Baze can hit balls like that with his left foot, then perhaps he should cross with it.

Our best chance, however, came from a corner. It was swung over from the right, and David Connolly, despite having his shirt pulled up around his neck, out-jumped his six-foot plus marker to get a fierce header in which their keeper could only parry. It was a bit of a theme for the game that the Wycombe defence seemed to get away with some rather blatant shirt-pulling - one in particular in the second half on Gifton Noel-Williams when he was in the box - and some very suspicious tackles. There was one on Wayne Andrews, who had just been played through on to a lovely ball from Connolly, where the defender went in from behind; whether he played the ball or not I'm not sure, but if he did he did so by going through Wayne's legs.

That was just about the first half as far as chances goes; they had one excellent strike after someone - I suspect Johnno - had been caught dawdling in possession on the half way. The Wycombe player took the ball right the way up to the edge of the box and hit a cracking drive towards the bottom left hand corner, but Miller got a hand to it fairly comfortably. He had another very sound game; he made both saves he was required to, and looked excellent on crosses. His kicking was pretty terrible, but we've sort of got used to that by now.

As I say, I thought the first half was really good - we passed the ball accurately, supported one another well, worked the ball around the field and even had one of the defenders drop off to pick the ball up from Miller rather than have him smash it upfield. Why Kenny Jackett felt it needed a change I'm not sure; it's true we hadn't had many chances, but you got the feeling that we could go up a gear or two. I also think he should have given it five or ten minutes after half time just to let the team settle down again (and that's a general feeling - unless someone's playing terribly, or you're a few goals down, they should probably get at least a chance in the second half). However, he decided to swap Andrews and Easton, both of whom had looked competent first half, for Noel-Williams and Penrice.

While they both looked good, the shape and the tactics seemed to fall apart. The second half was woeful. The wingers never seemed to get outside their markers let alone get crosses in, we kept running into the (admittedly packed) Wycombe defence in the middle of the park, and we also decided that as we now had a big feller up front we didn't need to pass it anymore. In effect, we looked shite.

As a result, memorable incidents are few and far between, and mostly centre on the despicable time-wasting of the Wycombe players and keeper in particular. The number of times one of their men would go down injured, stay there for a few minutes and then hop up at the first sniff of the stretcher was unacceptable, and the ref should have booked at least one of them (although not the one who went down in our penalty area with what looked like a dislocated shoulder). The Ref wasn't too bad, incidentally, although he did give the number of bad decisions which most refs in this poxy division seem to, but his linesmen had to have been sent by Satan to test us.

First half, whenever anyone was played through, they'd wait and see if they were going to chase the ball and blow for offside if they did. Second half was the same only they now also blew up whenever the ball was in midfield. The number of totally random offside decisions was incredible - isn't there some rule about interfering with play involved now? And they were incapable of spotting when a ball had crossed the sidelines, despite standing on the bloody things.

Anyway, second half was almost totally unmemorable; we were all over the place. Nigel Gibbs, especially, kept moving over to the centre of defence for no apparent reason and so forcing Baze to track back on their winger. However, I remained positive enough to remind the person I watched the game with of the two last-minute goals we'd had this season, and sure enough, in the 89th minute, Gifton Noel-Williams wriggled past the Wycombe defence and played Connolly in. DC, who'd had only one shot on goal (the header) all game, duly slid it past the odious Cheesewright for the three points. Cue much shouting and jumping up and down, of the sort that only last-minute goals can generate.

So, I'd question the changing of the team at half-time, but the first half was excellent. The defence, too, was sound throughout - Millen and Miller were both excellent again, and Robinson looks a good player even now. Chesterfield on Saturday may prove more of a test, however. In the end, the second-half performance doesn't really matter; what does is that we got three points out of it - I'd happily (well, not quite happily, but you know what I mean) watch ninety minutes of shite in the freezing cold as long as we keep on winning. I'd rather we played like we did first half, though.