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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 27/9/97
Watford 1(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 4, Kennedy 2, Page 3, Millen 3, Mooney 1, Noel-Williams 2, Hyde 1, Lee 4, Johnson 3, *Rosenthal 4*
Subs: Palmer (for Noel-Williams) 3, Thomas, Slater (for Gibbs) 4
Scorers: Lee (72)
York City 1(1)
Scorers: Tolson (34)
Same old Watford
Report by Ian Grant

You know that dreadful fatigued feeling that overcomes you upon arrival in the office on a Monday morning? The one that leaves you staring blankly at a computer monitor in the slightly optimistic hope that it'll suddenly turn into a time machine and rush you back to 11:00 on Sunday evening so you can catch up on some more kip? The one that reminds you of the way you felt on Saturday when watching your heroes play with all the grace and poise of Devon White and Trevor Senior competing in a three-legged race?

Well, here I am. Staring blankly at my monitor. With a match report to write. On a game that bore more than a passing resemblance to that three-legged race. Oh, joy.

This is a long way from being a crisis, still some distance from being a slip-up of any consequence. But the fact remains that we haven't played at all well for the first sixty or seventy minutes of our last two League games and, as a result, have had to rescue draws with slightly desperate comebacks. It's obvious that we're good enough to beat sides like York City, yet on Saturday we failed to work out how to beat them.

The away side's gameplan was familiar enough - Sit Back In Defence And Hit Us On The Break. Our response was largely clueless - prior to the arrival of Stuart Slater on the right wing with half an hour left, we'd done little to surprise, confuse or worry the York rearguard. We were predictable, sterile, lazy - of the attacking players, only Ronny Rosenthal appeared to have any spark of invention.

There was no arguing with York's half-time lead. They came with exactly the right tactics and they put those tactics into practice with a purposeful efficiency that we appeared unable to cope with. Watford pressure was absorbed with relative ease and the handful of attacking opportunities that came their way on the break were used effectively.

The difference in approach was apparent early on. In one of their first attacks, York put a fine cross into the box and saw a powerful header pushed wide at full stretch by Alec Chamberlain. At the Vic Road end, a succession of high, hanging Watford crosses were met by Jason Lee's head - but, under pressure from defenders and unable to get any power from such paceless balls, he couldn't force a save from the York goalkeeper.

The almost incessant mis-placing of passes by Watford players eventually cost us a goal. As Lee lost the ball in midfield, we were totally caught out by a counter-attack - Keith Millen played the York strikers onside and, in a move that was depressingly reminiscent of a few home defeats last season, the away side took full advantage of the situation to drag defenders out of position and provide a striker with an easy finish. It was a goal they'd deserved - if not for their non-existent enterprise, then for their organisation.

We were waiting for a miracle. On occasions this season, we've played with such panache that a goal has seemed likely to come from any number of sources. For most of Saturday afternoon, there were only two ways we were going to score - a defensive howler or a bit of individual brilliance. All other routes were either being blocked by York or by our own failings. The lack of movement from players without the ball was at total odds with the way we'd set out to play earlier in the season; the lack of support for Jason Lee (who was winning a great deal in the air, yet with little purpose since no-one was picking up the pieces) ought to have prompted us into looking for other paths to goal than the long ball; the lack of width was almost as disturbing as the lack of decent crosses on the occasions when we did manage to get the ball out to the flanks.

Appropriate, then, that our only worthwhile effort of the half should come from long-range. No prizes for guessing the man responsible - this time Shooooooty Johnno was unfortunate enough to see his low shot beat the keeper, only to be blocked by a defender. The ball rebounded out to Micah Hyde who, in a summary of his afternoon that says more than anything I could write, dallied and dallied in an attempt to bring the ball under control and missed the chance.

Much of the second half was little better. A couple of half-chances came and went - Hyde volleying wide in a good position and Lee seeing a goal-bound shot diverted wide by the keeper's finger-tips - but our approach work was still without finesse. York, who were clearly more than happy with the state of play, organised themselves like a side that had come for a point and found themselves ahead - that's not a criticism, by the way.

Ironically, the arrival of Stuart Slater and the replacement of Nigel Gibbs came at a time when the latter had set up camp by the corner flag and begun sweeping quality crosses into the penalty box. Gibbs ought to count himself extremely unfortunate to be taken off as he was having an excellent game - although offensive play is clearly not instinctive for him, he's capable of making a positive impact if given space and time to deliver the ball.

Without ever contributing more than a few crosses and a few runs at the York defence, Slater made all the difference. Why? He caused York problems. For the first time in the match, the opposition were forced to deal with something that wasn't legislated for in their gameplan - a winger with pace, skill and intelligence. They became less certain of themselves, the crowd got behind the home side, Watford gained the initiative.

We could've won the match in the closing quarter. The goal set up a rousing finale - Keith Millen, hardly the first person you'd expect to come up with a moment of creative quality, swept a through-ball into the path of Jason Lee. The Watford number nine was brought down as he attempted to round the keeper but still managed to poke the ball goalwards with enough power to get it past the chasing York defenders. It was a goal he'd deserved.

Lee came close to scoring a few minutes later, firing in a shot from an angle that was pushed away by the York keeper. This time it was Tommy Mooney, having a similarly nightmarish afternoon to Micah Hyde, who found himself with the chance but his shot was blocked brilliantly by the recovering goalie. Late on, there was a decent shout for a penalty as Rosenthal was blocked in the box - it has to be said that he might've stood a better chance of winning the referee's decision if he hadn't executed a dramatic, rolling dive to emphasise the foul.

Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one turd doesn't make a sewer. We were largely awful in this match, yet the doom-laden post-mortems conveniently forget that we're unbeaten in five League games and remain top of the Second Division.

And, sadly, it was the fans' performance that was most disappointing. Given Graham Taylor's request for vocal backing when things aren't going well, the silence around Vicarage Road was fairly depressing. Even worse was the chanting of Stuart Slater's name for a long period prior to the substitution - if we're going to achieve anything this season, it's going to be by supporting the players on the pitch. As I've said continually in recent years, sooner or later we're going to have to trust a manager's judgment - if we can't do it with Graham Taylor, we're not ever going to be able to do it.

One final rant about the referee, if I may. A performance that was generally sound (clearly he's been reading BSaD, since trying to remove Gifton's shirt was deemed to be an offence) was wrecked by his failure to clamp down on time-wasting. I'd be fascinated to know how long the ball was actually in play during the 92 minutes' action we saw - personally, I'd be surprised if it was much more than an hour. You can't blame York, who'd come to do a job and were doing it rather well, but you can blame an official who, despite extravagant gestures to the contrary, didn't stop his watch or make any attempt to hurry things up.

As Jonathan Richards rightly pointed out, it makes an absolute nonsense of the FIFA directives. Your goalkeeper can concede a free kick in your own box for not clearing the ball within six seconds, you can get booked for kicking the ball away or not retreating at a free kick - yet you can take twenty seconds for every throw-in and receive no punishment at all. Regardless of any advantage gained, the game is ruined as a spectacle by such frequent, lengthy stoppages.

Mind you, this game wasn't much of a spectacle anyway...

The golfing fraternity
Report by Matt Bunner

It was one of those days, the one where no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop yourself from being niggled and thinking that the world is against you. Moving a mate's piano through a conservatory, across a muddy lawn and into an awkwardly placed van whilst your best jumper gets snagged on everything was not the best way to kick-off the day. I couldn't even get a decent meal at Burger King: the bloody burger was cold and I'm not queuing behind that rabble again to complain!

Arriving at the ground earlier in order to get decent seats (we thought), ended up with my dad and I dangling off the edge of the Rous stand, right next to the screaming brats. They were enjoying themselves, especially when the PA bloke told the kids not to throw anything on the pitch and consequently there was a flood of golden disks raining down from the stand. Watford also imported a 100 giga-watt PA system that distorted not only the sound, but the roof as well.

So would the football be the same? Oh yes. And how. The first forty five minutes sailed past, not because of the beautiful football, but because I was counting the number of yellow disks behind Chamberlain's goal. I made it about 46. Sod all to report, except...


  • Hyde waited for the brain to decide what the feet were itching to do ages ago, directly in front of goal after a Johno rocket, and...
  • Nothing.


  • One header tipped away by Chamberlain, and
  • The goal. Of course, the goal. Lee lost it, a ball threaded to Tolson who was in so much space that I could have run down the steps, vaulted on to the pitch and scored
  • Nothing else.

Half-time. Yawn.

York's tactics were not any different than other visiting teams: men behind the ball and quick on the break. What concerned me is that I thought we had mastered teams that came to play this way (there was enough of that last year): we must get around the back of them. On Saturday we had no width; we were instead, inexplicably, ignoring the midfield and humping it up front to Lee and GNW who had little change from the numerous York defenders. Here, the fault was largely due to the defence. None of them are Frank Leboeuf or Glenn Hoddle, yet spent the afternoon impressing the golfing fraternity with their hooks and slices, Mooney in particular.

A few more yellow disks came down during the half-time interval and Sylvester and Tweety-Pie left the stadium to take their seats, presumably to watch another comical half. It did get better, but only marginally. The crowd was largely quiet throughout the game, and I think I'm right in saying the largest chant was for Stuart Slater. When he came on, with Palmer, things changed significantly because we had a width option. Slater was given the ball at every opportunity to roast the left back and did so with regularity. Suddenly, everybody fired into life as opportunities came and went. On 72, Millen passed to Lee, who half shot and half dived into the 'keeper, and, as I watched the Ref put his whistle to his mouth to blow quite rightly for a penalty, Lee stumbled onto the ball and it found its way into the net! Eh? How did it happen? Eh? I need to watch Nationwide Extra.

The remaining highlights of the game saw the ineffective Hyde steam in a volley (spilt by the 'keeper), but Mooney should have scored minutes later from 3 yards: a delicate chip over the 'keeper would've done rather than hitting the ball at light speed! York, still looking confident, broke a couple of times and had the best chance in injury time. That was about it, game over.

A very poor performance from Watford. We didn't have any width: Kennedy hardly got forward and Gibbs never ventures into the opposition half in-case he gets a nose-bleed (Melvang, crap though he is in defence, does at least offer an RHS outlet). The fans were quiet, even the kids. The biggest cheer was reserved for the Man Utd result.

Still Luton next week. If we play as we did the first half, then we'll draw, but if we play as we have done for the majority of the season, then we'll, err, draw. Is that the way it works? Only joking: we'll stuff them AS LONG AS WE HAVE WIDTH...