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Nationwide League Division 2, 24/1/98
Brentford 1(1)
Scorers: Rapley (21)
Watford 2(1)
Team: *Chamberlain 4*, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, Page 4, Millen 4, Mooney 3, Hazan 2, Hyde 4, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Palmer 2
Subs: Robinson (for Palmer) 3, Ward, Thomas (for Hazan) 0
Scorers: Mooney (7), Johnson (71)
An unlikely win
Report by Ian Grant

You could've been forgiven for thinking that every game of the weekend was just being played as a bit of pre-match entertainment for the main event, Stevenage against Newcastle. And Kenny Dalglish's whining post-match excuses were all any of us could've asked for. Newcastle, who have spent so much time, effort and hard cash trumpeting their status as one of the biggest clubs in the country, were reduced to claiming a draw at Stevenage as a good result. And Stevenage were elevated to national heroes. Oh, happy day...

Between that and Kinkladze's extraordinary goal for Manchester City (it wasn't the fact that he beat three defenders that made it special, it was that he retained total, stuck-to-his-boot control of the ball with every touch as he weaved his way towards his target), Sunday proved that there's plenty of life outside the heartless hype of the Premiership. Saturday? Well, Saturday proved that God must be a Hornet.

It's difficult to find any other explanation for how we bundled out of the ground with just-scraped-a-vital-win-and-we-are-top-of-the-league grins at five o'clock. While the view from the cramped away terrace made it difficult to discern a goalbound screamer from a mis-placed pass on the halfway line, I'm fairly certain that Brentford had an unfair share of the former while we occupied ourselves with the latter. Put it this way, I can only recall two on-target shots by Watford players in a 2-1 win...

It all started rather promisingly. I'd love to be able to give you the details of Tommy Mooney's early goal - unfortunately I can't, so you can just re-arrange the words 'corner', 'header', 'shot', 'Lee', 'Mooney', 'goalmouth scramble', 'goalline clearance' and 'keeper fumble' into a sentence that may or may not describe what actually happened.

That we scored with our first venture into the home side's penalty area seemed to indicate that we'd grab a hatful against their shoddy defence - except that it was also our last venture into the home side's penalty area for about an hour. Far from disintegrating into the shambles that usually indicates a relegation-bound side, Brentford gritted their teeth, re-grouped and came at us. We didn't expect it and we didn't really cope with it.

The equaliser might've been fortuitous but, bearing in mind later events, Watford fans would do well not to dwell on that for too long. Robert Page's slip opened up the defence but the danger still might've been averted by Alec Chamberlain's decisive advance. However, the shot hit Chamberlain, rebounded back onto the Brentford player and rolled into the unguarded net.

For the remainder of the half, Brentford did their best to demonstrate that their earlier slice of luck had been deserved. Sure, Chamberlain might not have had to deal with any major emergencies - he had to be awake enough to deal with a couple of long-range shots - but our failure to stop the Brentford attacks at source and build any kind of forward momentum for ourselves was genuinely frightening. We were muscled out of the game and, with the forward threesome of Lee, Kennedy and Hazan failing to recreate any of the coherence we saw against Preston, we only managed one passing movement of any note before half-time.

If we were voicing doubts about Alon Hazan's ability to deal with the more aggressive side of English football, they were amplified by this display. While some of his touches were as good as expectations demand, he simply failed to impose himself on the game and became more anonymous as the play became more physical. It's early days, of course, and we'd be unreasonable to expect an immediate adjustment. Besides, the same accusation could be levelled at some of his colleagues - particularly Peter Kennedy, who almost entirely disappeared when he was desperately needed to pick up the scraps from Lee's flicks.

Any feelings of relief that we'd survived until the interval evaporated within a couple of minutes of the re-start. Although Kennedy was played through in the very early stages of the half (he wasted the chance with a poor attempt at a lob which span wide), that was the last action Hornets fans would see at their end for some time. Brentford simply laid siege to the Watford goal in a spell of pressure that really should've been rewarded with a couple of goals and a comfortable win.

Chamberlain wins the 'man of the match' award for two remarkable stops, both requiring one-handed saves low down at his right hand post. He actually brought one of them on himself with a poor clearance that was returned by a Brentford striker but the other, an instinctive reaction to a deflected shot, was extraordinary. But even with the Watford keeper's heroics and even with Mooney booting another effort from the goalline, Brentford should've scored - two great opportunities saw strikers shoot across the face of goal when it seemed far easier to hit the back of the net.

Bearing in mind that all of this was happening at the other end and that the Watford fans jammed into the away terrace could see little other than panic-stricken chaos in their team's penalty area, the mood among the travelling faithful rapidly changed to annoyance and near acceptance of defeat. Halfway through the second half, no-one would've begrudged Brentford three points - they were so comfortably the better side it was more than slightly embarrassing. We were barely able to get over the halfway line without losing the ball.

And yet somehow we robbed them. Micah Hyde made some progress towards the edge of the Brentford box, laid the ball off and Richard Johnson hit a first-time shot with the outside of his right boot that curled away from the keeper and nestled into the bottom corner. The mayhem on the terrace stemmed as much from disbelief as anything else - we hadn't had a shot on target since Mooney's goal over an hour before.

That sense of disbelief seemed to spread to the Brentford players as, for the first time, they showed signs of their current lowly status. The feeling that they'd given all they could and it wasn't enough must've been difficult to escape. So we actually managed a period of relative domination for a few minutes after the goal, albeit a period of relative domination that resulted in pitifully little in the way of incisive football. We lacked width (inexplicably, since Hazan and Kennedy spent most of the match drifting out wide - somehow they took up positions that did us no favours) and on the rare occasions when we engineered crossing positions, the final ball was awful. That our closest effort on goal in the last twenty minutes was a very wayward cross from Hazan that bounced on the top of the bar says a lot. That criticism extends to our set pieces - two free kicks were belted artlessly into the wall, the corners were floated hopelessly down the goalkeeper's throat.

Although Brentford came back for another go at us in the final minutes, we were never again in so much trouble. Keith Millen had to head a cross out from the six yard box, Chamberlain had to punch clear in similar circumstances but the free shots on goal were, thankfully, a thing of the past. We survived, we regained the leadership of the division - and I can quite understand any Brentford fans who might be wandering around with bewildered looks on their faces.

Does the end justify the means? Well, sort of. We were almost entirely awful - yet I've seen us in very similar circumstances when we've ended up losing 3-1 or 4-1, scorelines that wouldn't have flattered Brentford on Saturday. That we didn't go under is only partly due to the generosity of the opposition - we showed the kind of spirit that's required when things aren't going well. While some players hid, the ones that didn't - Lee, Hyde and Johnson, for example - pulled Watford through to an extremely unlikely win.

Damn crossbar
Report by Dave Perahia

Another day, another dollar. Or in this case, another game, another away league victory, our ninth already this season. Today it was Brentford. Those abroad or watching Ceefax at home will have rejoiced at the result, but many will have secretly or even openly envied those who were there to see it for themselves. Well, for the benefit of those of you who feel that way, feel jealous no more. Despite the fact that I WAS there, I ALSO spent the majority of the afternoon wishing I could see the game ! Griffin Park must rank for me alongside Roots Hall, Southend or the Kennel in the "Crap View" awards. The away terrace, with its roof dipping low at the front, seems to offer a peculiarly poor vantage point and I spent the majority of the game squinting into the distance trying to discern what was happening on the pitch. To those contributors who, unlike me, bother to try and offer an accurate account of events on the pitch - I salute you and look forward to reading YOUR reports as I at least have little idea of what actually went on. To be fair, the problem was partly self-induced. No-one actually forced me to stand in the exact spot where the crossbar of the goal in front of the away terrace almost completely obscured my view of the goal at the other end. So I'll stop complaining.

This was a real blast from the past. Watford fans shoehorned in their thousands into a tight area of terracing, swaying in unison and packed like sardines. I can see the dangers of such a scenario all the more clearly now with the benefit of hindsight, but what a buzz ! The relatively high roof dropping down quite low above the front of the terrace produced magnificent acoustics, amplifying the noise of the travelling Hornets. The noise was awesome inside the terrace - when the fans were in full voice, attempts to speak (or even shout) to those around me were futile. The atmosphere generated was simply fantastic, and I hope the noise projected outwards towards the pitch as effectively as it washed over us in the terrace.

The game itself failed to match the support, to be honest. The team looked on paper capable of more than just doing the job. Ronny Rosenthal still out, but Kennedy playing alongside the recently resurgent Jason Lee with Alon Hazan behind them looked to be a useful attacking unit.

The game started with Brentford looking better than I expected and our rearguard looking surprisingly vulnerable. Our opponents were definitely "up" for this game, closing down and chasing as if their lives depended on it on a tight pitch. Watford appeared to be trying initially to play football, but the lack of space available resulting in proceedings degenerating into a scrap which suited Brentford but did us no favours at all.

From what I can recall, it took us seven minutes to mount a serious attack, and we scored from it. The ball was swung in from the right flank, their on loan keeper fumbled the ball under challenge and a goalmouth scramble ensued. The ball was eventually forced into the net by Tommy Mooney and bedlam erupted in our enclosure. The scorer of the goal remained a mystery to us for some minutes until a rousing chorus of "Hands up if you scored the goal" elicited a wave from Super Tom who was standing round abouts the halfway line at the time.

The goal seemed to settle Watford nerves for a while, and we looked a little more comfortable without really threatening the opposition much. Our composure was rocked by a freak equaliser, however. A routine through ball from the Brentford half was missed by Page who seemed to slip. Bob Taylor pushed the ball past Steve Palmer and although Alec Chamberlain got to the ball before Rapley of Brentford, his parry rebounded off Rapley's shins and rolled agonisingly into the corner of the net. A scrappy and evenly contested remainder of the half followed, with Brentford perhaps marginally hungrier, but we reached half-time without further mishap.

Half-time featured a repeat performance from the Brentford cheerleaders who were unfortunate enough to have been told to perform in front of us. I fear they may have been permanently damaged psychologically by some of the sarcastic comments flowing forth from some of the similarly pre-pubescent members of the Watford crowd. My patients of the future, perhaps ? (The cheerleaders that is, as opposed to the crowd who were beyond help !)

The second half was extremely frustrating. I hoped that the sensible decision to replace Palmer with Robinson might give the team better shape, but my optimism was unfounded. Brentford were much the hungrier and more likely to score, and the Watford goal experienced a number of close scrapes including one effort cleared from beneath the Watford crossbar by Tommy Mooney. I couldn't help thinking that a better side would have seriously punished us. A succession of good opportunities were spurned by the home side, and Watford could offer little up front to compete. Lee and Kennedy, who had linked so effectively the week before against Preston, looked to have lost their telepathic link. Kennedy was often too distant from Lee to be able to pick up knockdowns, and we resorted to too many hoofed balls forward to Lee who battled manfully but with little support from his team-mates.

The clever money was on a Brentford goal, but inexplicably Watford snatched the lead. In seemingly our first coherent attack of the half, Hyde controlled the ball on the edge of the Brentford box and slid it to Jonno. With defenders closing in rapidly, Jonno had to hit it early, and he did this brilliantly, lashing a shot with the outside of his right boot which slammed against the left upright and ricocheted into the net with about 20 minutes left to play. Another strike from outside the box, and perhaps one of his most valuable so far this season. The goal seemed to wake us up and for the first time in the game we started to play like a top of the table team, knocking the ball around nicely and looking generally more convincing. Hazan bent in a right wing cross which struck the crossbar, and Hyde and Kennedy buzzed busily around the Brentford box looking dangerous for perhaps the first time in the game.

It was Brentford who finished in the ascendancy, but their lack of punch in front of goal proved pivotal and Watford stole the points. This was perhaps a fortunate victory. It is however gratifying that we have quality players like Peter Kennedy, the inspirational Richard Johnson and Ronny Rosenthal to produce a moment of magic that breaks the stalemate. Last season these games were drawn or lost, this season they're being won on a regular basis. That's the stuff of championships. With victory today came top of the table status and I'm certainly not complaining about that !