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Nationwide League Division 1, 5/12/98
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 2, Kennedy 3, Page 4, *Palmer 4*, Robinson 3, Ngonge 2, Hyde 3, Noel-Williams 4, Johnson 4, Wright 2
Subs: Easton, Gudmundsson (for Wright) 3, Mooney (for Ngonge 3)
Barnsley 0(0)
Dot and Ethel
Report by Ian Grant

You know what I really hate? Juggling. Bloody rubbish.

Just thought I'd mention it, like. The match? Well, it's like soap operas, innit. For every Grant versus Tiffany blitzkrieg on Eastenders, there's an episode of Dot and Ethel, petty squabbling, weak gags and general time-wasting. Watford fans have been able to gorge themselves on entertainment thus far and the first goalless draw, with Dot and Ethel in midfield, was long overdue.

Drab, not dismal. There's a difference. This was a reminder, for fans as much as players, that First Division football still has some surprises for us, that our astonishing progress up the table won't be easily consolidated. Even without star strikers, Barnsley were too much for us. Their incessant pressing left the midfield unable to find space for controlled possession, and the general disintegration followed from there. But even then that belligerence remained to salvage a point.

No rave reviews this time, then. Not that kinda game. But no slaggings either - for a change, the current squad of Watford players is most definitely in credit.

We didn't know it at the time, but the Hornets' best attacking moment came and went in the first minute. Micah Hyde won the ball in midfield and played Gifton Noel-Williams in on the right. His shot, mis-hit across the face of goal, almost turned into what it ought to have been - a pass to the unmarked Michel Ngonge - but the striker couldn't stretch quite enough to get a touch. Barnsley didn't provide such room for manoeuvre again and we were to regret Gifton's poor decision making.

But the first half was really about two goalkeepers. After nine minutes and at a stage when a goalless draw seemed like a very remote possibility, Peter Kennedy's booted clearance evaded a defender and Noel-Williams was in the clear. Barnsley's Bullock hurtled from his area but was beaten to the ball, the Watford player knocking it round the keeper and running on to score. Except that he was brought down.

The yellow card was as quick as it was unpopular. But it was debatable, I think. Gifton's run was taking him out wide so, although he might have gone on to score, I'm not convinced that it was any kind of certainty. By the time he'd retrieved the ball, there would have been covering defenders too. Yet it was a cynical foul, designed to bring an end to the attack, and a defender probably would've been dismissed in the circumstances. All of which is a very woolly way of saying that we can't demand that referees use their personal judgement and then complain when they do. Or perhaps I'm just soft.

With the arguments still raging around the ground, Barnsley dealt with the free kick, went up the other end and forced Alec Chamberlain into a quite superlative double save. The first, low down to his right to claw out Rose's header, was good enough. The second was extraordinary, Burton able to pick his spot after the rebound had been collected by Barnard, Chamberlain diving left to push away the shot when everyone expected to see the net bulge. Sensational stuff.

That was the best action the game had to offer, the rest consisting of some rather unsatisfying squabbling and too much Barnsley pressure for comfort. Although Noel-Williams ought to have done more with a headed opportunity, the closest Watford effort before half-time didn't even come from anyone in a yellow shirt, a defender heading just over from a Kennedy free kick. For the first time in quite a while, the quality of the final ball was what let us down. At the Vic Road end, Hignett might've done better when offered the chance to shoot from inside the area but he scuffed his effort wide.

For fifteen minutes after the interval, the away side simply ran the game. Tremendous work by Robert Page and Steve Palmer restricted the number of shooting opportunities, but the ball came straight back from an over-run midfield. We were unable to get out of our half, let alone mount an attack. Defeat loomed large.

Yet, for all that, the chances were less frightening than the swamping possession that spawned them. Rose had the first, shooting at Chamberlain after a speedy break down the left - the Watford keeper spilled the ball but the ever-alert Palmer was on hand to whack it clear. Amazingly, subsequent openings also ended with efforts straight at Chamberlain, perhaps an indication of our good fortune in avoiding Barnsley's first choice strikers. So neither Moses' long range drive nor Rose's snatched shot from a very dangerous position required Chamberlain to move his feet.

The withdrawal of the ineffective Ngonge in favour of the ineffective-but-aggressive Tommy Mooney played a part in a gradual turning of the tide. The sense of panic subsided, Barnsley began to be wary of over-committing themselves. But it would be easy to over-state the case for a winner in the last half hour.

In truth, nothing we did had any kind of fluency. Like they'd stolen our top secret plans, wherever our attacks went, they were ambushed by half a dozen of the enemy. With the midfield hassled out of its usual play-spreading role, the wide men received the ball too deep and were forced to cut inside into crowds of red shirts. That applied as much to Johann Gudmundsson as to Nick Wright. All too narrow, all too busy and fiddly, we were never convincing. Barnsley had us sussed.

So we needed a bit of help. We got it, too - a horrendous square pass by a defender that landed at Mooney's feet, only for him to hurriedly shoot at Bullock from just outside the box. As the match moved into its last ten minutes (sorry, liberal use of the fast forward button) and after McClare had fired a long range effort at Chamberlain, Noel-Williams set up Hyde for a shot that was saved with relative ease. Finally, Bazeley drove a foot wide from the edge of the area.

Every point gained is a point gained, if you see what I mean. It'd be easy to flatter ourselves on the basis of recent form, to say that we're a class above much of what clogs up the First Division. But that's not true. We've shown that we can make the likes of Crewe and Oxford look woeful - it's not so easy against yer Barnsleys and yer Palaces, though.

So our opponents looked like one of the more credible contenders, especially since they were deprived of key players. They stifled our forward play and presented serious challenges to our defence. They were, I think, considerably superior in several areas. Yet this was a draw that our efforts probably deserved and illustration of the progress we've made. To me, a fighting goalless draw against a resurgent Barnsley is as encouraging as stylishly thrashing the pants off Crewe.

But not as entertaining, natch.

Back to reality
Report by Steve Harris

What's goin' on here then? I can't quite work it out. Total lack of thrills and spills, little imaginative attacking football, final ball going astray, eyes beginning to glaze over.... Ah, hang on, though. I feel a far-off distant memory surfacing from the back of my ice-numbed brain.


As we know, all things in life are relative. Relatively speaking, I'm either a bean-pole or a short a*se, depending on whether I'm standing next to Danny DeVito or Devon White. Likewise, if you compare Saturday's match with resurgent Barnsley to any of Watford's recent, seemingly endless stream of wonderful, wonderful footy matches, you're likely to feel that phrases like "total cr*p" would be appropriate. However, when if you were visiting the Vic for the first time this season, you would probably be thinking "I've seen a lot worse 0-0 draws", or maybe "average game, really" or even "bl**dy h*ll, it's cold!".

The very fact that we should even consider viewing this game as a dour failure really does speak volumes for the way the Hornets have redefined our standards of late. Our "duff" is now other people's "not bad", our "normal" is their "fantastic", and our excellent their "Cor blimey, Guv, I ain't never seen nothin' like it!".

While we hardly managed to carve open the opposition defence in the whole ninety minutes, we still bossed much of the game and a draw was well deserved - and that against a team playing in the Premiership last May.

For the "N"th match in a row, we also had some cause for complaint concerning the ever popular man in black. The whole course of the game could have run very differently if Barnsley keeper Bullock hadn't up-ended GNW on ten minutes when clean through on goal following a Peter Kennedy through ball, and it certainly would have if referee had followed his FIFA directives and sent the bloke off! It was outside the box, of course, so a free kick not a penalty, a yellow card in place of a red and all came to naught.

We had already witnessed a golden opportunity to take the lead straight from the kick off when Gifton's cross-cum-shot passed just out of reach of the otherwise anonymous Ngonge on the far post.

Straight after the non-penalty incident, a goal at the other end looked a dead cert, but to the rescue with yet another truly stunning double save came Alec Chamberlain. The first from a low header following a decent build-up and cross from the left, the second ( and best) a blinding reflex push round the post from the follow up.

You know, it really is about time we started talking about this man in the same breath as the likes of Coton, Miller and James. ALEC CHAMBERLAIN, SIR, YOU ARE THE BUSINESS!!!

That was about it for the first half, except for some determined defending from both sides. I couldn't help thinking, as I defrosted over my half-time cuppa, what difference a good ol' fashioned rocket from GT would've made to the second period. Sadly we will never know, as the second half appeared pretty much indistinguishable from the first.

I don't wholly go along with the theory that that old Taylor magic has slowly evaporated in his enforced absences - just an off-game methinks. However, a bit of a tea-flying b*ll*cking would not have gone amiss.

One thing that Saturday clearly illustrated was just how far from being first-choice striker Michele Ngonge has now become. When Smarty and GNW are fit, there's no way on Earth he'll get selected based on this and other recent performances. He looked a long way off the pace and it was no great surprise when he was subbed in the second half.

What was a surprise, however, was that he was replaced in the central striking role by Tommy Mooney. One thing we already knew BEFORE Saturday was that our Tommy's best days as a front man are now behind him...but that didn't stop his impression of a blindfold rhino on speed putting the wind up the Barnsley defence for half an hour. Unfortunately he wasn't able to whip the aforementioned blindfold off quickly enough to take advantage of the best chance of the game.

A Barnsley fullback put a square pass across the face of his penalty area without looking up first and suddenly Mooney was there right in front of goal with only Bullock to beat. He elected to shoot first time with power straight at the keeper, who blocked it with his legs and the chance was lost - a metre either side and the pace on the ball would have made it unstoppable.

Minutes later, Mooney bludgeoned the ball past a couple of defenders to set himself up with a clear sight of goal but skied his shot.

I don't know. Footballers! They have ALL WEEK to work on...well, getting the ball in the back of the bloody net. You'd think under these circumstances they'd be able to get the basics right - or am I being VERY OLD FASHIONED?

Not much else to report really, apart from a couple of half chances at either end - but to be honest neither side looked much like scoring after that.

I'm not complaining, me. Not too many expected us to be third in the league at the half way stage, and there can't be many clubs in the land who've experienced such a healthy ratio of champagne to bread-and-butter performances. Even in mediocrity we still produced a sound defensive performance and a couple of quality moves through the middle of the park.

And if we do find ourselves in need of a little extra sparkle before long, well, never fear. We'll soon have an extra trump card to play...and it goes by the name of GRAHAM TAYLOR.

Report by Baz Barry

This has proved difficult. As ever, I wanted to produce a cleverly constructed masterpiece of flowing prose, with a beginning, middle and end. But after three attempts, it's not to be. Instead, what you've got is a collection of disconnected observations, which, on reflection, is entirely in keeping with a muted and disjointed afternoon.

In true Hornby-esque fashion, the bad omens were in place early on. A lost argument with the ticket office about their "Family offer" allowing for two adults and not a male and female, as they're now insisting, was followed by a frustrating trip to the shop next door. That place is a shambles. There's numerous staff trying to work from a tiny desk with just two tills. Add in a queue the length of the store that prevents others from getting to the goods and you have the solid foundation of disorganised chaos. Small wonder there were plenty of grumbling, dissatisfied punters, leaving empty handed.

The view from the back of the Lower Rous gave a strangely shallow perspective on the game. We had a good view of The Gift's early run and rushed "shot" but couldn't comprehend how close Ngonge was to deflecting it in. Ten minutes later the sending off incident passed us by, although it looked as if GNW would have had a lot to do to get the ball in the net.

We seemed to have some success working down the right but too often the crossing from Wright and Bazeley was slow, ineffectual and fluffy. Creativity from the left was negligible throughout. Surprisingly, it was the first time Ngonge and Noel-Williams had started a game together but on this evidence something was badly missing. Allan Smart is the obvious and truthful answer. Sadly I've yet to see Michel come up with the goods and he was particularly anonymous on Saturday. On the other hand, I thought Gifton gave another good impression of a useful target man, holding the ball up well and causing a bit of panic whenever he ran at the defence. The one area that was lacking meant attempts on target from both forwards amounted to zero. Our first shot on target came on forty-three minutes with a tame attempt from Bazeley. We had two more during the second half, both from a bustling Mooney. Three efforts in ninety minutes is hardly thrilling football.

Chamberlain was easily the busier of the two goalies, making a wonder double save in the first half and coping reasonably well with their early second half onslaught. Pleasingly, Page and Palmer looked assured even though they were up against Barnsley's second string attack. Perhaps significantly this current unbeaten run coincides with their coming together.

We were definitely below par. Despite trying to huff and puff our way to a snatched victory towards the end of the game, we didn't deserve any more than a point, and arguably less. It was like one of those stagnant games that happened last season when we were "found out". Perhaps that's what's happening here, although this wasn't stagnant, just difficult. The opposition are watching us and working out how to stop us playing. Certainly Johno and Hyde had to work hard to earn their money and at times were found wanting. Hyde was too casual and it was significant that when Johnson had a bad patch just after half time Barnsley had their best period of the game. Luckily he got going again but they never gave us any time and space to develop. They always seemed to have an extra man in midfield and an extra midfielder in attack. They did a Watford on us.

At the end the understanding crowd mooched home happy with the point. Recently we've been spoilt with a diet of vintage champagne, and although as satisfying, a bottle of Irn-Bru is hardly as exciting.

Despite Jackett's noble intentions and predictable interventions, I couldn't help thinking that if GT was around he would have tried to come up with a clever masterstroke that could have changed the game.

Not for the first time this season, I found myself concluding that the next few weeks will be significant.

See also: Copacabarnsley