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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 13/9/97
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 4, Page 4, Palmer 4, Mooney 4, Noel-Williams 3, Hyde 4, Lee 4, Johnson 4, *Rosenthal 5*
Subs: Slater, Easton, Andrews
Scorers: Rosenthal (44), Lee (62)
Chesterfield 1(0)
Scorers: Willis (82)
Strong foundations
Report by Ian Grant

Perhaps it's necessary to point out that any criticism of Watford players or management contained in this match report is mere tedious quibbling which is best ignored. Any Watford fan who hasn't spent the weekend gazing contentedly at page 325 of CEEFAX or a Sunday paper casually left open at the league tables is clearly the kind of joyless urchin that helps to keep Ocean f***ing Colour b****** Scene out of the dole office.

It matters little that this was a slightly lethargic, occasionally dumb performance - it was still a game that we deserved to win by a fair margin. Worth remembering that it's only a few months since Chesterfield last visited the Vic, when they did unspeakable things to us on the break, made us look utterly clueless (or maybe we could've managed that on our own) and effectively ended our promotion hopes.

One thing that hasn't changed since then is that Chesterfield are still content to defend and occasionally charge forward on the counter-attack. But we appear able to deal with that now - after a season of trying and failing to beat such sides, we showed enough guile this time to open up the massed defence on several occasions.

It took a while, though. Talking about Watford's territorial dominance is largely pointless (the two teams' tactics made it fairly inevitable that we were going to have most of the possession), it's all about finding space, using width, turning defenders. None of which we did with any great regularity. Chesterfield, more than competent at the back, seemed happy enough to soak up the pressure, particularly when it became clear that our delivery of corners (from Micah Hyde and Peter Kennedy) was lacking its usual danger.

And there remained the threat of a swift break from the away side. Aside from a couple of occasions (Steve Palmer deciding to write a thesis under the heading "Shall I Pass The Ball Back To Alec Or Not?" and needing a clattering challenge from Robert Page to save his blushes after being robbed; Nigel Gibbs clearing a cross from the goalmouth; Harry "England's No. 1,354,982" Willis shooting feebly at Alec Chamberlain), there was little to see at the Vic Road end during the first half. On such occasions, it's all about defenders keeping their concentration, making sure that they're ready for the sudden attack when it does come - and we did that pretty well.

Down at the Rookery, the only real chance of a goal appeared to come from Ronny Rosenthal's single-minded charges at the Chesterfield defence. Our attempts at intricate passing through the middle were always likely to end in failure, as were the unimaginative hoofs up to Jason Lee's head. We had managed to hit the woodwork yet again, however - as another corner was cleared, Richard Johnson played the ball back into the box and Rosenthal's flick bounced off the top of the bar.

Width was what we needed and, just as half-time was upon us, width was what we got. An unsatisfying, monotonous forty-five minutes ended with Unselfish Johnno supplying Peter Kennedy on the left wing. The whipped cross was mis-hit by Jason Lee and rebounded up into the air, with Rosenthal waiting as it dropped and controlling an astonishing volley into the bottom corner. If the approach play was a trifle messy, the finish was perfection.

It might not have been a lead that we particularly deserved but it was vital - in these games, as we found out to our cost against Bournemouth last season, you have to score first. As it turned out, we pre-empted any change of approach from Chesterfield by coming out for the second half and forcing them onto the back foot once again with an opening burst that included our best attacking moments of the afternoon.

Within minutes of the re-start, we'd come so close to creating an absolute masterpiece of a goal. It was all Classy Johnno's work, turning a predictable move into a scything attack. There was nothing on when he received possession in the midfield so he made the run himself, passing the ball into Gifton Noel-Williams' feet and demanding it back to rampage unchallenged into the area. His far-post cross found Jason Lee, who produced a glorious header back across goal at full stretch. The fans rose to celebrate...and it hit the post. And people say that Richard Johnson's not creative, you know...

The goal arrived after another ten minutes of Watford pressure. Again it was width that made the difference, again it was Johnson who was at the root of it all. Chesterfield broke out of defence but found themselves unable to get past Scary Johnno, patrolling the midfield with all the focused aggression of a starving mosquito. The resulting move ended with Kennedy using his strength (something none of us expected him to have) to hold off a Chesterfield player and win a throw. He took it quickly, catching the Chesterfield defence in a rare moment of distraction, and Tommy Mooney's cross arrived into the six yard box with Jason Lee totally unmarked for a simple, yet well-taken header.

At 2-0 it should've been all over. What happened in the subsequent half hour is anyone's guess - either we relaxed and, in doing so, lost control of the midfield battle that we'd been winning so comprehensively or Chesterfield saw their unbeaten run coming to an end and decided to fight a bit. Regardless, the rest of the game was distinctly uncomfortable.

That we didn't succumb to Chesterfield's vigorous, if ungainly, attempts to get themselves back into the game was entirely due to some mighty defending from the back three. If we can rely on this kind of rearguard action when things stop going our way, then we really are in a strong position this season. Despite mucho possession, the away side rarely saw the whites of Chamberlain's eyes numerous efforts sailed harmlessly into the Rookery simply because they were unable to engineer better shooting positions.

That Chesterfield scored was frustrating since we were beginning to turn the tide back our way. It was also thanks to the scoreboard, which had been showing "Watford 2 Chesterfield 1" for some time (bizarre chant of the afternoon: "Scoreboard, what's the score?"). A corner swung in and was flicked on at the near post, floating over Chamberlain and into the far corner of the goal. Bugger.

If anything, things were slightly less fraught after the goal had gone in. We appeared to re-gain some energy from the realisation that the game wasn't yet won and came close to adding a third, Rosenthal forcing a decent save with a wobbly kind of shot that looked like sailing way over before dipping violently.

I'd argue that over-stating our brilliance in matches like this merely sells us short. The improvement since May has not just been evident on the occasions when we've utterly out-played sides we'd previously struggled against, it's also been there (Preston aside, I suppose) when that gorgeous fluency has deserted us. On Saturday, we were strong and potent enough to beat a confident Chesterfield side - we didn't stun them with our class, we didn't tear them to shreds, we just persevered, battled, used our brains and remained organised for long enough to win the game. Graham Taylor has added more than decoration, he's building a side with very strong foundations.

That counts for one hell of a lot (and it'll count for even more in the middle of winter).

No false dawn
Report by Paul Goldsmith

Do not be fooled. This was a victory far more comfortable than the score suggests. For the second week running Watford were left greeting the final whistle with relief when they should have been celebrating giving their nearest rivals in Division Two a right royal pasting. All that can be said in prologue to this report is that it's been over ten years since such excitement about the Hornets has permeated Vicarage Road. And watching Watford swarm forward time and again with such a confident swagger this afternoon one can't help thinking that this is no false dawn, it's for real.

The game began with an almost unchanged Watford team, with Gibbs replacing the injured Melvang on the right. They immediately set up camp in Chesterfield's half. A series of corners were run, which in truth did not really threaten the impressive Billy Mercer in Chesterfield's goal. Micah Hyde is certainly no Peter Kennedy when it comes to taking corners.

Chesterfield attempted to attack on the break, but looked toothless. They lacked both height and pace in attack, where ex-Hornet Roger Willis attempted to lead the line while summing up their paucity by being there in the first place.

In truth, Watford's first-half dominance never really looked like resulting in a goal. While being a supporter of Gifton Noel-Williams, I would say that Wayne Andrews' pace would have been more effective against the slow and cumbersome Spireites' defence.

Steve Palmer came closest, surprising the Chesterfield defence and, to be honest, everyone else including himself by slamming in a 20 yard left footed shot which looped over Mercer before hitting the bar. Ronny Rosenthal looked dangerous as usual, but wasn't allowed the space to finish off what he had started. At the back, Robert Page marshalled the defence with his usual composure and aplomb, sliding in to spare Palmer's blushes on one occasion after Tony Lormor had stolen the ball off the the Watford No.5. Surely it won't be long before a Premiership club comes sniffing around Hertfordshire looking for a class central defender and finding Page.

As half-time approached, Alec Chamberlain finally had to make a save, as Roger Willis turned Tommy Mooney and shot relatively lamely to the Watford goalkeeper's left. It has to be said that the save was probably easier than Chamberlain made it look.

Then, on 44 minutes, it came. Jason Lee's snap shot cannoned off a Chesterfield defender's leg on the penalty spot, and the ball looped up into the air. It could have come down in front of Gifton, who no doubt would have smashed it into the stands, or it could have come down in front of Richard Johnson, who would have frozen, realizing that he was in the opposition's penalty area and therefore was too close in to score. Thankfully, it came down in front of Ronny Rosenthal, who made time for himself to spot that Billy Mercer was covering the near post, and so blasted the ball on the volley into the far corner. One word to describe where that finish came from - Premiership.

It was a great time to score, and the Hornets came out for the second half pumped up. Quickly, Watford went on the attack, a fantastic move featuring about five passes left Richard Johnson bustling into the Chesterfield penalty area. Before the North Stand could even find the "sh-" part of "shooooot" Johnson had placed a delightful chip to the far side of the goal. Jason Lee came stealing in, on his own. Seeing Mercer racing across his goal, Lee placed the ball with his head towards the far side of the goal. It was a great idea, but not quite great in practice, as the ball hit the post.

Watford smelt blood, they proceeded to bear down on the Chesterfield goal. Gifton Noel-Williams was asserting his now more customary physical dominance, while still suffering from the usual referees' thinking that someone of his size can't really have been fouled. He was hurled down, tripped up, had his shirt pulled, with no fouls given. He also managed to return the compliments with some late shoulder barges on the Chesterfield defenders, leaving even the considerably large Mark Williams on the floor.

We were also treated to the almost comforting sight of Tommy Mooney steaming forward from centre-back. His forays into the Chesterfield half were well timed and not usually picked up by any defenders. And it was from one of those undetected forays that the Hornets' second goal came. Peter Kennedy, who once again produced a performance full of effort, skill and verve, had attacked down the left, and the ball was fed back to the advancing Mooney, who swept the ball into the box. As the ball came across, time seemed to stop. Were Jason Lee, Gifton Noel-Williams and Micah Hyde really standing in the middle of the Chesterfield penalty area, completely unmarked? My eyes deceived me not, and Lee composed himself, picked his spot, read a paper, made himself a cup of tea, ate a pineapple, and calmly nodded the ball into the corner of the net. The scoreboard blasted out the message : Luvver-Lee Jubber-Lee. The crowd rose to scream that "We are top of the league" and acknowledge for the second time in a week the man who has now scored three goals in five league games and looks a better buy with every game.

It didn't end there, Micah Hyde and Richard Johnson had tied up the midfield completely, typical of this was a Chesterfield attempt to play out of defence, whereby they passed the ball about six times, but couldn't get anywhere as Johnson and Hyde were snapping away at their heels like terriers. Inevitably, Johnson stole the ball, fed Hyde, who swung the ball out to Rosenthal on the left. Ronny gathered himself momentarily, and embarked on a diagonal run towards the penalty area, before unleashing a piledriver which Mercer had to stretch to tip over.

The effect that the Israeli has on the crowd has not been seen since John Barnes prowled the left wing in the early eighties. When he gets the ball, an audible frisson of excitement flows through the ground, and he doesn't usually disappoint. One thinks that if Watford do make it up this season, it will be on his back.

In the last ten minutes, Watford relaxed, and allowed Chesterfield to come back at them. They forced a corner in the 80th minute, which Willis took. The ball sailed over the Watford defence, including Lee, who in hindsight should have made more of an effort to meet it, and kept on going, right into the net.

Thankfully, that was it. Watford chose to ward off pressure by throwing themselves forward again, coming close on many occasions. Kennedy and Rosenthal seemed to irritate the crowd by trying to keep the ball in the corner. But that was probably the best idea, as at that time of the game it was more important to run down time and keep the ball than to try and increase the lead and risk losing the ball. After five minutes of injury time, the referee blew for time, and the Watford fans celebrated a well deserved victory.

To be honest, I cannot see many teams getting the better of Watford this season. Apart from the abberation at Preston, they simply haven't looked like losing. The feeling is that the only people to defeat them will be themselves. They really look good bets to win the league. And now, more people are going to believe us.

Thanks for coming!
Report by Matt Bunner

Luver-Lee Jubb-Lee! I had a laugh at that when it came on the scoreboard, perhaps because we had just gone 2-0 up. Incidentally, this was the same scoreboard that forecasted the result half-way through the second-half; where were the National Lottery numbers? A big cheer came from the Vic end as the scoreboard scratched out Chesterfield's 'goal', but was drowned by the away fans' groan. Somebody then piped up that we always give away a soft goal and just before I turned around to say, "Another prophet of doom...", I realised that he was totally correct...

I was slightly apprehensive before the kick-off as I didn't know what to expect from Chesterfield: they were also unbeaten, had beaten us 2-0 a few months ago and nearly reached the FA Cup Final and yet I knew that if we played reasonably well they would have to be at their best to beat us. The first chance we created saw Micah Hyde clear through on goal after about 7 minutes, but instead of burying the ball, he chose to play in an unmarked Lee, except that the ball didn't reach him, the 'keeper deflecting it away. After that little happened: Willis won most of the early aerial exchanges with Page; Gibbs booted clear a cross from the goalmouth, Page slide magnificently to recover where Palmer had dawdled and Willis scuffed a shot which Chamberlain held comfortably.

Watford enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first half, as you would expect from a team at home, but there wasn't the fluidity in the passing and supporting play that has been so evident in recent weeks. However, we still looked reasonably dangerous. A cross was headed out by Chesterfield and it fell to Steve Palmer on the edge of the 'D' who tried a volley and, truth be told, mis-hit it and it looped on to the bar with the 'keeper flapping. Rosenthal, after he realised that spending half of the time on the deck looking for justice wasn't going to pay, should have done better with an opportunity presented to him inside the left edge of the penalty area. He had time to pick his spot, but as so often, the ball was placed rather than 'wellied' and the 'keeper made a comfortable save. It was a mistake that he learned from.

Just as Chesterfield and their annoying supporters ("Stand up if ya Northerners", being the most annoying) had thought their tactics had been spot on in the first half, a miscue from Lee sent the ball spiralling to Ronnie who delivered a sling-shot volley into the corner of the net before the 'keeper had time to think. Best time to score they say: not 'arf!! The tea we brought at half-time was all the more sweeter and we didn't get a peep out of the Northerners!

The second-half was similar to the first, except that Chesterfield did more defending. Johnson and Hyde spent most of the time picking up the rubbish in midfield, Rosenthal was in his 'give to me NOW!' mode and Lee won EVERYTHING in the air: all we need it to learn is where Lee is going to flick the ball (he doesn't flick it down the line from a ball played down the flanks, he guides the ball to the centre of the pitch where, hopefully next time, there will be a golden shirt). I was also encouraged by the attitude of Lee towards GNW: he was appreciative of everything that GNW did and was not afraid to show it.

The best move of the match came after the kick-off, when lovely inter- play between Johnson and GNW enabled Johno to whip in a cross to the far post for Lee to head against the post. We continued to press, but not convincingly, until reward came in the 62 minute. Kennedy fed Mooney who delivered a cross of exquisite proportions to Lee and after accepting the space and time granted by the blushing Chesterfield lads, planted a header to the 'keeper's left hand side. That gave us breathing space, well, enough space to give away the mandatory 'soft goal'. In the end, it came down to us defending too deeply. We kept their best efforts to long range, but on 82 they won another corner. The ball was swung in, I thought harmlessly, but no Watford player jumped and it was left to Willis to flick on a ball that, embarrassingly for a poorly positioned Chamberlain, looped over and dollied in at the far post. Not the best piece of defending. The expected onslaught from Chesterfield never materialised as we realised that we had been defending too deeply and put into place the old Watford theory that attack is the best form of defence: Ronnie's dipping effort that the 'keeper spooned over from under the bar was most notable. After 5 minutes of injury-time the ref called it a day and the points had gone deservedly to Watford.

It's refreshing to know that even when you don't play well, you still manage to win. That is what defines successful sides from ordinary sides. We beat Chesterfield, unbeaten previously, fairly comprehensively without extending ourselves. As I said earlier, the same Chesterfield side that hit the headlines earlier this year. It is a measure of how far we have progressed and this was re-inforced by Brian Butler doing his match report on the game for Radio 5-Live: he said summated by saying the difference in class was obvious. Our next test will be how we play in the mud-bath pitches of winter.

So, Chesterfield, delighted that you turned up and realised that we are deserved of our position at the top: we are (hopefully!?) here to stay! Thanks for coming and see you next year, if you're going up!