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Nationwide League Division 2, 1/11/97
Watford 4(1)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Bazeley 4, Kennedy 2, Page 3, Millen 3, Mooney 3, Noel-Williams 3, Hyde 3, *Lee 4*, Johnson 4, Rosenthal 4
Subs: Palmer (for Bazeley) 0, Easton (for Johnson) 0, Thomas (for Lee) 0
Scorers: Lee (36, 53), Johnson (64), Rosenthal (70)
Blackpool 1(0)
Scorers: Preece (74)
Smart 'n' classy
Report by Ian Grant

A round of applause, ladies 'n' gentlemen, for Blackpool. Since we were relegated, it's become depressingly rare to see sides arrive at the Vic with a commitment to passing football and the intention of doing something other than putting eleven men behind the ball. The result was, aside from a short period of unsatisfying stalemate during the first half, one of the most attractive, entertaining matches we've seen this season.

Unfortunately for the visitors, such open tactics did them precious few favours. Recent history proves that the best way to come away from Vicarage Road with three points is to play for one and see what happens. In sticking to their principles, Blackpool did produce enough attacking fluency to cause us a few problems at the back. However, they failed to apply enough pressure on the Watford midfielders.

Put simply, Micah Hyde and Richard Johnson ran this game. When that's allowed to happen, the Hornets become an altogether more effective outfit - the difference is in the quantity of supply to the flanks and the quality of supply to the forwards. It's obvious that Ronny Rosenthal and Gifton Noel-Williams ought to profit from such circumstances but, perhaps more than anyone, it also brings the best out of Jason Lee.

That point was proved within the first five minutes of this match as Lee held off opposition players in the midfield to find Noel-Williams with a fine through-ball. Unfortunately, the youngster decided to take an extra touch, allowing the Blackpool keeper to advance and deflect the shot away for a corner. While some players' skills are only able to emerge when given room to breathe, Noel-Williams appears to seize up when his brain interferes. Yet as an instinctive striker, he is an extraordinary prospect - something demonstrated by an intricate interchange of passes with Darren Bazeley that resulted in the winger shooting straight at the keeper.

The failure of that early Watford pressure to achieve the breakthrough seemed to discourage the home side. Having weathered the early storm, Blackpool emerged to provide some of the sternest tests the Watford defence has faced at home this season. Essentially, they used width frequently and productively, spreading play out to the left at every opportunity and planting some excellent crosses into the area. Yet, although we were unable to cut off the source of the danger, we did cope well with the threat once it reached our three central defenders.

Indeed, Blackpool's closest moment was of our own making - a dreadful back-pass leaving a striker to go round Alec Chamberlain and fall flat on his face in the process. The incident was at the Rookery end so any comment from me would be pure speculation - the referee didn't see it as a penalty, however, and I guess that's what counts.

As the game settled into a rather stagnant period, it was Watford, better equipped to win the physical battles, who gradually assumed control. While this stage of the first half was probably the only part of the match that was dull to watch, it was also the most crucial - once those battles were won, we were able to get on with doing more aesthetically pleasing things.

By half-time, we were once again dominant. Jason Lee had scored, bravely rising high to head in a Micah Hyde cross under challenge from the keeper. Just moments after the goal, Noel-Williams had been played through again - on this occasion, he wasn't allowed the time to take an extra touch as the Blackpool keeper flung himself forward to block the shot. Peter Kennedy had also been unlucky, seeing a belter of a drive sent inches wide by a minor deflection.

The lead didn't flatter us - the quality of our attacking, full of movement and perceptive passes, had deserved better finishing. And, that back-pass aside, our defence had remained strong in the face of some nifty Blackpool play.

We emphasised our superiority during an enormously pleasing twenty-five minute spell at the start of the second half. This was the Watford we saw at the start of the season, fluid and intelligent. And while Peter Kennedy looked a little off the pace on the left wing, Darren Bazeley shrugged off the criticism that's been thrown his way (by me, as well as others) to contribute fully. The point about Bazeley is that he isn't useless - if he was, he'd be far less irritating. On this occasion, he appeared willing to take on his full-back (during the first half, Graham Taylor was off the bench to scream encouragement at him as he tried to break down the wing) and able to stick useful crosses into the box. A vast improvement.

Even so, a defensive error forced Chamberlain to produce a fabulous save to preserve our lead. A weak headed clearance fell to an unmarked striker - his shot was slightly mis-hit on the turn but still required Chamberlain's fingertips, reaching low to his right, to steer it past the post.

"Scored from a corner, we've gone and scored from a corner." Yes, strange but true. As every Watford player bar Richard Johnson and Alec Chamberlain piled into the Blackpool half, Lee rose to plant Bazeley's cross into the top corner for the second goal of his impressive afternoon.

Blackpool's gameplan had previously been positive but it rapidly became suicidal. As a consequence, Watford added two more goals on the break and could've had more. Noel-Williams was again guilty of a hesitant finish, this time shooting powerfully at the keeper after a Rosenthal run and lay-off. If the first save was fairly comfortable, the keeper's recovery to twice deny Bazeley's follow-up was remarkable.

The third goal was a classic counter-attack. A defensive clearance found its way to Jason Lee, who trundled forward with enough purpose to keep the ball while Richard Johnson caught up with a supporting run. Johnno, providing a perfect summary of his season by popping up exactly where he was needed and doing exactly what was required, slammed the ball under the keeper from the edge of the box.

By this time, the Blackpool defence was waving the white flag. If there's one thing that Second Division defenders hate, it's forwards who run at them - in Rosenthal and Noel-Williams, we have two who'll do that until the cows come home. But Rosenthal's individual masterpiece wasn't just about skill - it was about body strength, holding off challenges as well as evading them. When Johnson laid the ball off on the halfway line, there was only one thing in Ronny's mind - as the lone forward, he simply rampaged goalwards, surrounded by a cluster of defenders. He's done the same thing before, only this time he kept his head to chip the ball over the keeper. It was a wonderful moment, the most single-minded bit of brilliance we've seen since Bruce Dyer's run around the pitch to set up Paul Furlong against Birmingham four seasons ago.

Graham Taylor commented after the Luton game that "they don't really know how to play when they are 4-0 up". We decided to endorse his comments by mentally trooping off the field to a standing ovation, enjoying the manager's praise, having a nice hot cup of tea, a soak in the bath and a look at the league table. The fans, meanwhile, disappeared to get Barnet tickets. Unfortunately, there were still twenty minutes left.

Grotesquely sloppy defending let in Blackpool a number of times before the final whistle. They scored, Preece smacking a header past Chamberlain after Tommy Mooney went to sleep. They hit the bar, a striker contriving to miss the best chance of the game when unmarked in the six yard box. They forced Chamberlain into action once more, a two-handed dive late on, easier than the previous one.

By the end, the atmosphere was extraordinary. With the opposition piling forward to take advantage of our hapless defending and many of the home fans having walked out, it had the eerie silence of a heavy home defeat. That's a great shame - this was one performance that really did deserve recognition, a smart 'n' classy display that befitted a side eight points clear at the top.

We won't be able to play this well too often - not enough sides at this level are committed to the kind of football that Blackpool play. But it's reassuring to know that we can still do it, given the chance. More than anything, however, there's just that Rosenthal goal - such magnificence deserves to have the final word.

An apology
Report by Dave Perahia

Saturday at the Vic was not a day for the whingers. It was a day for the moaners to eat their words, a day for some of our boys to blow a large raspberry at their detractors and a day for me personally to offer an apology to Darren Bazeley. If I had been the Watford manager, Baze wouldn't have played. Pure and simple. He's been hopeless in the last two games. But I would have been wrong - Baze had a good game, proving once again that the art of footy management is not something that can be honed by playing "Championship Manager" on a PC. I'm not the only wannabe manager with egg on my face, however. A sizeable minority (me not included) have recently been calling for Jason Lee to be dropped in favour of Dai Thomas. If they'd had their way, we would have been denied three out of our four goals. Good on ya, Jase!

So, on to the game. My doubts about Baze notwithstanding, I was quite pleased when our team was announced. Kennedy fit again, and Rocket Ronnie had also passed a fitness test. Spare a thought for Robbo, tho' - not even on the bench after two good games as our number 3. Slater, the Hornet equivalent of Darren Anderton, was still out, this time with a 'groin strain'.

Watford started brightly, a relief after a couple of stuttering home performances. Some good early football led to Gifton N-W being presented with a good shooting opportunity in front of the Vic End, but as is becoming depressingly familiar, he blasted the ball straight at the keeper and the chance was lost. Such a talent, but he needs to work on his finishing - I sometimes doubt that the lad could hit a cow's arse with a banjo!

After about ten minutes, our visitors started to get into the game more, playing some good possession football but creating little in the way of clear cut chances. The tide began to turn again around the half hour mark, however, and after 36 minutes a rejuvenated Jason Lee capped a far more impressive performance than most of late by getting on the end of a wicked diagonal cross from Micah Hyde, seemingly heading the ball off the fist of the Blackpool keeper. The ball looped up and dropped just inside the left-hand post and into the net. The remainder of the half seemed to pass relatively uneventfully, with neither team creating much of note.

Watford have made much of late of trying to create the "Total Football Experience" at the Vic with musical build-up to the game, music when goals are scored and pre-match entertainment. This, they reason, will attract more fans and boost our attendances. I say forget that and play a few more halves of football like Saturday's second half. Goals, missed chances, good saves and crap defending attract fans much more effectively than a Harry Hornet mask and "Eat my Goal" (although the "Crown Jewels" weren't bad earlier in the season..!).

So to the second half. Early on, Alec made another cracking save to add to his recent Watford collection, diving to this right to somehow stop a goal-bound effort. Perhaps a pivotal moment, for the Horns were soon two up, a Kennedy corner being powerfully headed back across goal and in by the impressive Lee. Jason's taunting of the good-natured away fans I could have done without, however. Our performance was now reminiscent of some of our early home games, tearing forward over and over again. It became clear that the away defence were scared to death when our lads ran at them, and Jason Lee, now full of confidence, must have surprised a few Hornet fans by the way he confidently brought the ball down and strode purposefully towards goal beating two defenders as he went. Just as I thought he was going to bag his first Watford hat-trick, the ball was pushed left into the path of the onrushing Johnno who stroked the ball home beautifully from 10-15 yards.

I began to relax at this point, the third goal a psychological panacea as I could still remember the way Blackpool had come back from two down last season. There was no way back for them this time. Our fourth was a marvel. Ronny, who had played his part but not starred up to that point, collected the ball around the halfway line, put his head down and ran towards the away goal. Defenders backed off, and Ronnie just kept going, brushing aside opponents as he went. By the time he entered their penalty area, our hearts were in our mouths - would he finally manage to finish off one of his awesome runs ? He certainly would, gently dinking the ball over the despairing dive of their keeper and into the net. Sorry to rub it in to those who weren't there, but it was one of the best goals to grace the Vic in the 20 years that I've been going, and I've seen a few.

The rest of the game was an irrelevance. At some point, Preece grabbed a consolation for the visitors, Mooney letting him out of his pocket for long enough to allow him to power a header past Alec, but the points were ours. A triple substitution by us was the only noteworthy happening after this, and most of the last 10 minutes were missed by half of the Hornet fans anyway, a goodly number having left to queue for Barnet tickets well before the end. Oh, and the Gift missed another great chance, but by now I felt more inclined to forgive him. At least he finds good positions (are you listening, Moralee ?) and the goals WILL come.

So three more points and eight points clear. Life is sweet and GT is God. Until Tuesday at Southend at least.

Answering the critics
Report by Paul Goldsmith

As Micah Hyde received the ball on the left wing after a cleared corner, he began to make his way round to the back of the penalty area, unnoticed. As the Watford midfielder swung the ball in invitingly, he started his run to where he might be able to meet the ball. The ball hung in the air, and the North Stand held its breath as the Blackpool goalkeeper came out to meet it. Now was the moment when Jason Lee could show the massed ranks of Watford supporters why he was brought to the club. Now was the moment when Jason Lee could show his growing army of yellow-clad critics why their griping was premature. He climbed up into the air, high. The goalkeeper jumped into the air at the same time, raising his arms to grab the ball. They both met the ball........... .......................................................................and it finished in the back of the net.

The Watford number nine, the big number nine the Hornets had been searching for for years stood, with his arms raised, as the ground erupted. There's only one way to answer your critics, especially those so eager to talk you down, and standing with your arms raised with the ball nestling comfortably in the back of the net having won an aerial challenge to meet it is probably the best reply of all.

In truth, Watford were lucky to be the first goal-scorers. Blackpool had completed a twenty minute period of dominance, and while the Hornets had had some good chances, notably one clear-cut opportunity squandered by Gifton Noel-Williams after a clever Lee through ball, the game was beginning to look like a Millwall/York game, with the opposition grabbing a goal and Watford having to spend the rest of the game trying to get it back. Fortunately, the Blackpool goal never came. Well, it did, but Watford were 4-0 up at the time.

The first half was particularly frustrating as once again the Hornets started off as demonstrably the better team. Darren Bazely had at last woken up to the fact that he is playing in one of the most competitive positions at the club, and was using his pace to good effect to look the real answer to the wing-back conundrum. From his promptings, and crosses, many chances were created.

Noel-Williams was not the only culprit guilty of penalty-area profligacy, as Lee, Rosenthal, Kennedy and Hyde all missed good chances early on, added to the customary Rosenthal dive in the area which was tellingly immediately ignored by the referee, even though it was probably a good shout. Perhaps this year Watford will get away with so many misses. But there will come a time, in a higher division, when they will be harshly punished for missing chances. There are, after all, no teams like Sheffield United in the Second division this year. That said, Watford went in at half-time one-nil up, with the knowledge that no away team had scored at the Vicarage Road end this season, so confidence at the refreshment kiosk was tangibly high.

I'm sure Graham Taylor instilled the belief in his charges that one was not to be enough. Blackpool had an impressive forward line of Preece, Ellis and Quinn who were always going to cause trouble. Thankfully, an early corner was won on the Watford right, which was swung in by the here-to-fore strangely ineffective Peter Kennedy. For once, this corner did not go straight to the Blackpool goalkeeper, but instead landed on the head of Jason Lee, soaring above his marker to plant a forceful header into the net. During the Watford fans' ecstatic celebrations, Lee whirled around towards the Blackpool fans, who had (predictably) taunted him throughout the game, and appeared to show them what he thought of them in no uncertain terms. I thought he was waving, they thought he was swearing. If he was, then he'll need a good talking to, as he'll be receiving this kind of stick off everybody Watford meet. Seven goals is a far better reponse to this than two fingers.

An even better response was to latch onto the ball, and start on a mazy dribble towards the Blackpool penalty area, beating at least three people before either losing the ball, or passing the ball towards a space in the penalty area into which Richard Johnson was running. Now, I had always thought that if Johnson ever got the ball in the penalty area with the goal gaping, he would have to take the ball back out of the penalty area, before trying to dispatch it with a stinging shot. Luckily, I was wrong, and he slid in to steer the ball into the net for the third goal.

Before the fourth goal, Noel-Williams was once again worked through to face an easy chance, which again he snatched at and planted onto the advancing goalkeepers's legs. Darren Bazeley followed up, and in the ensuing melee there were at least three occasions where the ball could have finished in the back of the net. But one must not ignore the fact that once again, Gifton had wasted a chance. He is an excellent prospect, a real handful for any defence. Learning to head the ball better, and his control is improving. Added to this, he gets into good positions really well, timing his runs and positioning himself well. But I just hope he learns to finish. I had always thought this was a natural instinct, and maybe he just doesn't have it. I think we all hope it arrives.

Anyway, in the seventieth minute, the ball was cleared from a Blackpool corner. Richard Johnson passed the ball on to Ronny Rosenthal, in the middle of the Watford half. The Isreali started out on one of his head down charges towards the Blackpool end. The defenders in front of him back-pedalled furiously, hoping he would run out of steam. But that wasn't going to happen, as, with a startling turn of pace, he blazed through the middle of the three defenders surrounding him. The goalkeeper advanced, Ronny steadied himself, and then calmly clipped it over the keeper into the net. The North Stand froze in disbelief at what they had seen, and then erupted in reverence for the darling of the Vicarage. Gifton knew the score, bowing down in respect to the scorer of one of the best goals seen at Watford in years.

After that, again, the Hornets relaxed. Blackpool grabbed the consolation goal that seems to be requisite for beaten teams at Vicarage Road, without which the Watford goal-against column would seem positively anaemic. Alec Chamberlain pulled off the second of two superb saves to deny the opposition any further solace. Peter Kennedy went close with a free-kick, and the match ended with a rousing cheer from the Watford supporters who realised that their team really is as dominant as their position suggests.

Just a quick P.S. to this. Ronny's four-year old son, Dean (nice Israeli name for you!) was a mascot for this match. He came on with his father, received the ball, and promptly marched off up the field with the ball. His head was down, almost ignoring other poeple on the pitch, and he looked like he would take some stopping. Any comparisons with his illustrious sire were exacerbated by the way he then tripped over the ball, and theatrically dived to the ground. I wonder if they practise this in the garden?

Fantastic day
Report by Tim Rose

I delayed the writing of this report, to watch the goals on the T.V last night. That and the fact that I was still in complete shock at the sublime brilliance of Ronny's goal and the fact that I had taken my girlfriend to a match for the first time and she had actually not totally hated it.

My first and only groan of a rather fantastic day was when the team was read out to find that Robbo hadn't even got himself a place on the bench. For a young lad who had just had two very good games including scoring his first goal for the club to then be dropped must be hard to take, I just hope it doesn't knock his confidence too much.

That aside the Hornets started very brightly. Johnson fed Rosenthal who spotted Gifton's clever run and played him in only for the youngster to take one touch too many and give the keeper an opportunity to get there and block the shot. After that about another five minutes of pressure followed before Blackpool began to take control.

For about 10 minutes Bazeley was given the all too familiar run around as crosses rained in from the Blackpool left. However the back three and Chamberlain coped admirably and once Bazeley had got tighter to the Blackpool left winger the danger soon passed.

As the game approached half time the Hornets once again established control. Hyde swung over the left wing cross and Lee leapt higher than anyone else to head into the corner of the net. For a couple of seconds Lee stood still, staring at the Vic road end, as if to say ".... and you wanted Dai Thomas to play" and then thrust his arms aloft to join in the manic celebrations.

1-0 at half time and just about deserved. The second half was all Watford. Lee headed home Kennedy's corner. This must have surprised the Blackpool keeper as much as anyone as up to that point all our corners had been crossing practice for him.

Then Lee surged forward bringing back brief memories of Furlong at his best. Then brought us all back down to earth by losing the ball but off a defender's leg into the path of the rampaging Johnno and the player of the year in waiting made no mistake by smashing the ball home.

Then the icing on the cake. Johnno broke from a Blackpool corner, carried the ball to half way, laid the ball into the path of Rosenthal who powerfully held off three defenders, sped past two more and then quite majestically chipped the ball over the keeper to send the Vicarage Road end into first utter disbelief and then complete delirium.

The rest of the game is best forgotten. Watford stood around chatting to each other, all except Chamberlain who produced two fantastic saves. I just hope that they were saving themselves for Tuesday night. Preece's late reply was a little wake up call and Gifton missed another late chance. Other than that a rather fantastic day.

Chamberlain: Excellent game. Could do nothing about the goal and appears to have become an ex-Luton player who we seem to be able to accept. (Poor old Kerry Dixon)

Bazeley: Best game of the season. Re-discovered his talent of beating players and getting in quality crosses.

Kennedy: Poorest game to date. Didn't look quite fit but still caused Blackpool problems when going forward.

Mooney: Asleep for the Blackpool goal. I'm still not convinced of him defensively but always gives his all and when he breaks forward he looks dangerous.

Millen: Mister reliable. Solid as ever and to think some Hornets fans wanted us to get rid of him at the end of last season.

Page: Reasonable game, did every thing that was asked of him. Hyde: Had a decent game ran the midfield and looks more and more the player to bring the best out of Johnno.

Johnson: What can be said that hasn't been said already. I'm glad he's finally making his critics shut up (I was one of them) and is reaching his potential. A total midfield performance, enough said.

Lee: Another strong centre forwards game. Gives us the height and strength we need and scored two good goals.

Noel-Williams: So much potential it's frightening. If he gains some composure in front of goal he will be top class. Worked tirelessly but missed too many chances.

Rosenthal: Quite quiet till the goal he's been threatening for weeks. He's a class apart in this division. I don't think we will score a better goal this season.