Main Menu
What's New
97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 18/10/97
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, Page 4, *Millen 4*, Mooney 3, Slater 2, Hyde 3, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Rosenthal 3
Subs: Thomas (for Mooney) 3, Palmer (for Gibbs) 3, Noel-Williams (for Slater) 3
Millwall 1(1)
Scorers: Shaw (37)
A timely reminder
Report by Ian Grant

You win some, you lose some. We won some - the Watford mailing list team achieving a mighty 2-1 victory at Spurs on Saturday morning. And we lost some - the other Watford team blowing a chance to open up a really serious gap at the top of Division Two. To be honest, the former, requiring a half past five alarm call, tended to overshadow the latter - sleep seemed vastly preferable to yet more shouting.

But my fatigue shouldn't have been reflected on the Vic Road pitch. After last season's 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Lions, I wrote a report under the title 'A Timely Reminder' - Millwall had come to town and shown us that promotion wasn't going to be a walkover, that poor-to-average performances against the division's best sides wouldn't be enough. And so history repeats itself...

This wasn't an exceptionally dreadful display - certainly no worse than Gillingham or York. Given some decent finishing, we might even have won. The difference was in the strength of the opposition. Millwall, so often a pointlessly physical side in the past, appear to have focused their aggression - Wilkinson's typically ragged ill-temper aside, this was a disciplined performance that posed more problems than we could cope with.

Apart from a ten minute Watford blitz at the start of the first half and a late spell of frantic pressure in injury time, the away side controlled the play. They beat us at our own game, chasing our midfielders outta town to shut down any supply route to the wingers and forwards. The consolation in defeat is that it's unlikely to happen very often - there aren't many teams fitter and stronger than a Taylor side.

That stormin' start, anyway. With Millwall stuck in neutral, we passed the ball smartly, providing Stuart Slater and Ronny Rosenthal with the possession required to run at their defence. The crucial goal nearly came - a devastating move ended with Jason Lee misplacing the final ball; a Nigel Gibbs cross caused a bit of penalty area mayhem; Rosenthal shot wide after a weaving dribble; Jason Lee had a header blocked on the line.

But, just as the initial tide of expectant noise from the Vic Road end subsided, so we lost the momentum. The Millwall midfield kicked into life and set the agenda for the rest of the game. Our play lost all its dynamic thrust as passes went astray under pressure - before long, we resorted to thoughtless long balls up to Lee, who spent ninety minutes flicking the ball on to Nigel Spink in the Millwall goal.

Unable to retain possession, we found ourselves being battered by a sudden wave of Millwall attacks. Credit to Robert Page and Keith Millen for preventing the away side from having any serious opportunities - the fact remained, however, that we'd lost control of the game. Things did calm down a little towards the half hour mark but only, I suspect, because Millwall were catching their breath.

When it came, the goal was a fair indication that we'd lost our heads. It seemed that Watford players had countless opportunities to clear the ball but failed to do so - perhaps I'm being harsh here, perhaps they were merely looking for a productive pass rather than an aimless hoof, but the Millwall attack that came down the right wing seemed extremely avoidable. In the end, the ball was played across for Shaw to apply a calm finish, passing the ball low into the bottom corner. Millwall were worth their lead.

That seemed to put a little bit of fight back into the Watford players and we'd had our closest effort of the half, a Peter Kennedy free kick that whistled inches wide, within a few minutes. Despite being able to claim the better chances of the first period, we went in at the interval without having forced Spink into a save of any significance. Bearing in mind the success that these players have produced since August, one hesitates to say that we miss Kevin Phillips - we do, though.

Having seen four minutes of the second half with little change, Graham Taylor replaced the ineffective Slater with Gifton Noel-Williams. If there's been a connecting thread through our games this season, it's been the success or failure of our wingers - when they're given the ball, we look unstoppable; when we don't have that width, our attempts to go through the middle tend to look rather unconvincing. It says much about which type of game this was that the best Watford crosses of the match came not from Kennedy or Slater but from Nigel Gibbs.

The substitution, fiddling with the symptoms rather than causes, made little difference to the pattern of the play. We were still being hassled and hurried into mistakes in the midfield and, consequently, failing to get round the back of the Millwall defence. Personally, I would've brought Steve Palmer on to apply a steadying influence in the middle - but I've no idea whether it would've worked.

Millwall, confident enough to commit a few men forward after the break when they could've just protected their lead, managed to look the more dangerous side without ever really turning that impression into reality. They had a couple of moments - Richard Johnson deflected a goal-bound effort away; Alec Chamberlain tipped a deflected shot over the bar as it threatened to loop over his head - but our defence was generally good enough to prevent the killer second goal.

Aside from a clear-cut opportunity for Noel-Williams, who was denied superbly by Spink's legs but was in a position where the striker must be blamed for not scoring, there seemed little chance of an equaliser as injury time commenced. Whether the substitutions - Dai Thomas and Steve Palmer for Tommy Mooney and Nigel Gibbs - made the difference or whether Millwall became over-cautious as the final whistle approached, Watford had the chances to pull off an undeserved draw. Rosenthal headed wide when unmarked, Lee scuffed a shot off-target - had the roles been reversed, Lee using his head and Rosenthal his feet, one of them might well have scored.

A defeat isn't necessarily a disgrace. The bloke behind me, who seemed just a hair's breadth away from calling it a day as a Watford fan, had it all wrong - sometimes you have to look not at your own players but at the opposition. Sometimes you have to have a bit of grace.

So if this result finally makes us (players and fans) realise that promotion will only be achieved by another six months of bloody hard work, it's probably not a bad thing. Strangely, and despite all the disappointments of last season, some still seem to think that the championship is a formality. Millwall proved that it isn't, Millwall proved that there is some serious competition in this division.

Frustration and hope
Report by Matt Bunner

I, like many on Saturday, left the ground feeling frustrated, perhaps more than I ever have done because we had failed to beat Millwall at home when we all expected to do so. I can only assume that has come from our success this season; after all, if you have won 75% of your games, you expect to win.

The story of the whole match is that Hyde and Johnson were outplayed in midfield. Not often will I say that, but it was true on Saturday. Johnson had one of his rare poor performances; he just couldn't do anything right and was largely responsible for the goal, but he will always fight and he knows this was an off day. Of more concern was Hyde, who seemed to be very slow and by that I mean in mind and body. Millwall hustled and Hyde was found wanting. Maybe I'm being unfair because he has played very well this season, but when it comes to the muddy pitches in the winter he could just disappear.

Lee had a superb chance after a minute but dallied and Gibbs fired a centre across the goal that was gasping for a Watford toe and Lee had a goal-bound header blocked on the line. After that it was largely stalemate, but Millwall's passing was looking more assured. In the 37th minute, the ball came to Johnson, who inexplicably tried to head it back to Chamberlain from all of 30 yards. Not surprisingly the ball didn't reach, yet was diverted from landing at Grant's feet by some superb rear guard action by Page and Millen, but we were always struggling to clear the ball. Johnson and Hyde both had chances to boot the ball into the Red Lion, but chose to pass their way out and were left with their shorts hanging down when the ball found Shaw on the edge of the area and then the net. Extremely bad play. I would like to think Taylor had a few words about that. A few minutes later Kennedy put in a free-kick that was inches past the post: it would have been nice to have been level at half-time but I don't think we were worth it.

This season, I always feel we can score goals more than the opposition even if we go behind: that feeling wasn't there last season. Based on this sound principle, I thought we would come out all guns blazing and blitz the Millwall defence, but unfortunately somebody had replaced the guns with blocked pea-shooters. There was only one real chance for the 'Orns when GNW was put through and shot straight at the 'keeper. Ronnie had free header but only found PC plod and Lee scuffed a shot on the edge of the area when in acres of space. Millwall had other chances to score: a good save from Chamberlain pushing over a deflected shot and Johnson blocking another Shaw effort. Despite the frantic effort at the end we didn't get close.

I think they deserved it because they played with confidence. Watford didn't play well because they didn't seem to have confidence. Millwall will always be well organised but Watford can raise their game to a higher level. It's a shame this didn't happen because we would have seen a cracking match. It's no surprise that when we struggle the root cause is lack of width: being dominated in midfield leads to the wide men pulling in. On Saturday we had the players but Slater spent most of his time on the inside right channel and not on the right wing. Ronnie tried his best but he's only one man.

I'm sure the players are itching to get back on the pitch as soon as possible and show what they can do and seems almost appropriate that we have a fixture so soon against Fulham. There's no more incentive than to perform in front of Keegan and Wilkins when your pride is hurt. I've a feeling it could be a Watford party.

Just before I sign off, I will write a few words about some of the Millwall fans. There were a select few who spent the whole of the first half goading Watford fans into a fight. Only two or three took the bait but were stopped by the police. It was laughable. Yes, laughable. If, by some chance you're one of those Millwall fans after aggro, people were actually laughing at you because you were so pathetic.