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98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 22/8/98
Bristol City 1(0)
Scorers: Anderson (59)
Watford 4(1)
Team: Chamberlain 5, Bazeley 4, Kennedy 4, Palmer 5, Millen 4, Yates 5, Smart 5, Hyde 5, Ngonge 4, *Johnson 5*, Robinson 5
Subs: Daley (for Smart) 0, Noel-Williams (for Ngonge) 0, Hazan (for Millen) 4
Scorers: Johnson (8, 61), Yates (58), Hazan (79)
Football's great
Report by Matt Rowson

Oh Graham, strike us down with a thunderbolt from heaven for ever having doubted you.

The day started with myself, Kev Birdseye and Paul Thomas meeting Michelle and Craig of the SW Horns in the "Hen and Chicken" in Bedminster. This, we were assured, was a friendly family pub with good banter between sets of fans guaranteed.

Nice as it was to make the SW Horns acquaintance, I wasn't too keen on the venue ("You went WHERE ???" was the reaction of Kieron the Rovers fan later). With my back to the door, the scene growing behind me could be gauged by Kev's eyes flicking upwards and down into his beer as successive troupes of red-clad gorillas entered.

Kev was particularly morose, descending into a downward spiral of reflections about various aspects of the club and we were united in our low expectations for the afternoon... but how ironic the parting shot of "Don't come back in here if you win, lads" proved to be.

The football. Oh, not much really... only the best bloody performance I've seen by a Watford side since at least that win over Leeds six years ago. Whilst Luton, for example, might stand out in the recent memory, or even Fulham in May, we faced a Luton side crippled by injury, and Fulham is memorable for the gravity of the occasion rather than the competent display. Bristol City were actually pretty good, and sharp coming forward.

We stuffed them anyway.

Whilst the change in form can't really be credited to one player alone, one player was clearly the catalyst... Richard Johnson, returning from injury for his first game of the season sporting bright green shooting boots. These boots were called into action early, as in the eighth minute he unleashed a terrifying volley from thirty-five yards which would have flattened the East Stand at Watford (an option in years to come ?). Welch could only push it onto the bar, and it came down and off him into the net.

The Watford fans had already been making a racket, perhaps subconciously making the most of the strange lack of City atmosphere before their inevitable goal, but now we were at full throttle and making the most of the good acoustics, a joy after the frying pan at Portsmouth. References to banners, exactly who were the Champions, and who had been where before f***ing it up were particularly popular.

City came back strongly. Akinbiyi was through and images of February and Gillingham flashed before our eyes as he held off Yates and shot across goal, only for Alec to palm defiantly round the post. Andersen looked dangerous, and glanced a header wide of the far post before attempting a couple of half-hearted dives and virtually disappearing; centre-back Watts beat Millen to a corner, only to head wide, and Hutchings charged around kicking people. But we battled hard, kept them out and rode our luck but got to the break one-up.

The second half was a bit of a daze, as close to that thirty minutes at Luton as we have experienced since. First, dodgy City defending at a corner led to Yates stabbing home (to his surprise as much as anyone else's). City pulled one back almost immediately, Andersen turning the ball in after what looked like a foul on Chamberlain. Little matter... Johnno restored our two goal lead as, following a surging move forwards, he planted another long ranger sweet and low into the bottom corner.

Game over. City fans started leaving and Watford, looking confident for the first time since the summer, started knocking it around. Hazan came on for the injured Millen, and Noel-Williams and Daley replaced the magnificent strike force of Ngonge and Smart, who had pulled City's defence around mercilessly for the whole game. Hazan provided the icing on the cake... following a move reminiscent of the "SHERINGHAM!" goal for England against Holland in Euro 96, a luscious Watford move from the right ended up with Noel-Williams releasing Hazan into space with the City defence not knowing which way to fall. Hazan finished confidently, and then abandoned his cool mystique by belting towards the travelling Hornets, arms aloft and screaming his head off. He might have even enjoyed it as much as we did.

It wasn't over... another move ended up with us knocking the ball around the box obviously enjoying tormenting City more than scoring a fifth would have done. Substitute Thorpe broke for City, but the mighty Robinson swooped in with a perfect tackle which neatly summarised the match... Robbo had been booked for a violent first half challenge and this tackle had to be immaculate. It was.

So the whistle went and we departed singing in stunned disbelief. Shirts were covered as we trudged back into Bedminster chewing furiously on Fruit Pastilles and trying to look glum as we neared the car parked close to the pub. Only at a safe distance down the A4 did we unzip our jackets, let out some satisfied whoops and revel in Spurs and Luton losing, and Charlton top of the Premiership.

Johnno's back. Watford are back. Football's great. Bring on the Mackems !

See also: Bristol City On-line Experience