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Coca-Cola Cup 1st Round 2nd Leg, 26/8/97
Watford 1(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Melvang 2, Kennedy 4, Page 4, Millen 4, Mooney 4, Noel-Williams 5, Hyde 3, Rosenthal 3, *Johnson 5*, Slater 3
Subs: Palmer (for Millen) 4, Day, Andrews (for Rosenthal) 0
Scorers: Hyde (15)
Swindon Town 1(0)
Scorers: Leitch (57)
Tea with milk
Report by Ian Grant

There have been many changes at Watford over the last couple of months as the Vicarage Road Revolution gathers momentum. But few of those changes can have been as significant as this - tea with milk. Not tea with powdered crap or, as I once had at Ipswich, tea with white bits floating around in it like one of those snow scene shaky wotsits - tea with proper milk. Oh, happy day!

Suffice to say that, after that revelation, the result of the game held little importance to me - my evening, perhaps my life, was complete. The arrival of plain chocolate Hob-Nobs to Vicarage Road can surely only be weeks away...

The football? Oh, that.

In many ways, this was a significant match. While Saturday gave us the chance to show off our fancy passing, last night's game forced us to compete with a side from a higher division in a very, very physical contest. And we matched them. It wasn't at all pretty - not really an evening for your Slaters, Kennedys, Hydes and Rosenthals - but we came through the stern test unscathed.

Make no mistake, this was a tie we could still have lost. At no point were we able to assume victory and relax - even if Swindon didn't believe they could win, their desire to avoid a post-match roasting from Steve McMahon to add to the one they must've received at the interval kept them going at full throttle until the final whistle. There will be a lot of Watford players with bruises all over this morning.

In truth, the first half was largely abysmal - although, since we were starting the game with a two goal lead, that suited us just fine. Whatever grand intentions the visitors had of getting an early breakthrough soon petered out as they found it impossible to pass the ball under constant pressure from the Watford midfield.

The consequent stalemate was only occasionally broken, most commonly by minute flashes of Saturday's inspiration from the Watford wingers. One such moment saw Ronny Rosenthal sent through and waste the opportunity by choosing to square the ball when he should've gone for glory. For a former Premiership striker, Rosenthal seems curiously unselfish - or perhaps he's just trying to make friends with his new work colleagues.

A similar break, this time involving Stuart Slater, resulted in the first goal. With the Swindon defence nowhere in sight, a combination of three Watford managed to force the ball past the keeper, leaving Micah Hyde with the simple task of shooting into an empty net.

A couple of almighty goalmouth scrambles, one of which resulted from a superb, flicked effort by Gifton Noel-Williams that required an equally fine save, nearly saw us put the tie way beyond Swindon's reach. It would've been well deserved too - against a poor Swindon side, we were in command of the game.

Otherwise, there was little worth passing comment on. One Swindon player managed to get his (cough) privates in the way of a typically fierce shot by Richard Johnson - another shot in the second half hit Wayne Andrews in the face, proving that Johnno's now able to inflict pain on other players without even touching them...

No doubt there were a few fruity words being used in the Swindon dressing room at half-time, with the result that the away side emerged with new purpose. Even if glimpses of football were rare, the second half was thrilling as a primitive, physical spectacle.

It took barely a minute for the first serious scare to arrive - our defence was left standing by a quick break and Johnson was forced to scythe down an attacker as he went through on goal. Personally, I fail to see how that could possibly not be a red card offence, especially since the tackle itself was vicious enough to be worthy of a booking anywhere else on the field. But the referee, who was rapidly losing any control over the game thanks to his fussy, inconsistent manner, chose to show yellow. It's a thin line between being a hero and a villain - Johnson went on to put in a performance that would win him the 'man of the match' award yet again when he shouldn't really have been on the pitch. The resulting free kick was curled just inches wide of Alec Chamberlain's right hand post.

The Swindon equaliser was always coming, despite our valiant attempts to deny them any time and space in which to play. A defensive lapse left a striker alone in the area as a cross came in and he calmly looped a header over Chamberlain.

At that stage, the game was becoming increasingly frantic and the signs looked a little ominous. That we survived was largely due to the ridiculously committed attitude of many of the Watford players - faced with a side that was dishing out a right royal battering, we refused to back down and matched them in almost every department (I say 'almost' because Lars Melvang was having a torrid time against Walters). Having shown his more creative side on Saturday, it was Richard Johnson who again stole the show, this time for his leadership and passion. One moment he'd be covering for Peter Kennedy after the winger had gone on a run; the next, he'd be putting his head in among the boots to clear from the edge of the area; the next, he'd be driving in a shot; the next, hurling a long throw into the box. He looked like he was enjoying himself. The others followed his example, so much so that even the likes of Slater and Kennedy were putting in important tackles.

Up front, Gifton Noel-Williams played one of his best matches in a Watford shirt. When all we could do was welly the ball clear, it was Gifton who was there, withstanding a buffeting from his marker to hold the ball up and relieve some of the pressure. His presence grows with every game and this, I suspect, was a very valuable addition to his first team experience.

Such determination not to surrender saw us carve out a couple of chances - an in-swinging corner nearly caught the keeper out at his near post and Micah Hyde forced a good save with a shot from inside the area. At the other end, Alec Chamberlain pulled off the save of the evening, clawing a shot away as it headed for the bottom corner in the closing minutes.

A draw was the right result and, for us, it's a very good one. Swindon might be a pretty dismal outfit but they're a pretty dismal outfit that can't be easy to play against. We didn't do enough to win (in some ways, the end of the winning run and weight of expectation that goes with it is no bad thing, especially since it's ended with a safe passage to the next round) but we did more than enough to avoid defeat.

On Saturday, we proved that we can play brilliant football; last night, we proved that we can also get stuck in when needs be. It's a rare and valuable combination.