The kindness of strangers
Report by Ian Grant
Here at BSaD towers, the boardgame of choice is 'Coppit' - the casual, flippant homicide
of 'Reservoir Dogs' acted out on a piece of cardboard. With coloured plastic hats instead
of Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth. 'Coppit' kicks ass.
'Cluedo', on the other hand, is inexplicably popular tedium. But - if you're wondering
where the hell this is all going - it provides a handy analogy for the process
of elimination currently going on at Vicarage Road.
On Saturday's evidence, we can rule out Alon Hazan on the wing with the crosses and
Allan Smart in the forward line with the goals. Our attention now turns towards
Clint Easton in the midfield with the passes and Michel Ngonge in the penalty area
with the clinical finish. Paul Robinson in defence with the lead piping's looking quite
Leaving rubbish metaphors aside for one moment, the picture's gradually becoming clearer.
As the competition for places hots up, certain players are feeling the pace - Hazan
looks particularly vulnerable, occasionally inspired but frequently frustrating and
vague. Meanwhile, Graham Taylor's experiment with 4-4-2 shows promise, the arrival
of Tony Daley demonstrating that, with the right personnel, it's a formation that can
provide us with damaging width.
If that set-up is the way forward, then some of the elements are falling into place. Micah
Hyde would've been expected to be a regular, Keith Millen less so, but both have
impressed. In other areas, there remain unanswered questions - with Nigel Gibbs yet
to have a run-out and Steve Palmer looking solid, the right back position may be especially
Such complicated musings shouldn't obscure the very simple fact that the Hornets were
absolutely dire in the first half. At Portsmouth, our initial defensive failings were
made slightly less hideous by an element of attacking incision, albeit wildly ambitious.
On Saturday, despite some promising periods of possession, there was no such cutting
edge while the back four found themselves terribly exposed.
Within five minutes, Rankin had wriggled his way into space on the edge of the box and
hit a low shot that rebounded off the base of Alec Chamberlain's right hand post. That
alerted the defence to the afternoon's main danger, so much so that they crowded the centre and left Bolland all
on his own to receive a pass inside the area just three minutes later - fortunately, his finish was weak and gathered gratefully
The pre-match euphoria, enhanced by the first glimpse some of us have had of the Championship
trophy, had evaporated. Up front, we once again lacked width and attempts to play the
ball over the top for Michel Ngonge to chase fell foul of Bradford's offside trap. The
midfield was largely over-run as the away side chased and hassled to great effect. The
defence, although capable enough on the flanks, appeared unable to cope with the darting
runs through the middle. It looked grim.
There will be sides this season who'll really punish us for such periods of inferiority.
Thankfully, neither Portsmouth nor Bradford fall into that category - the learning process
has been slightly eased by the kindness of our opponents. The shambles after twenty-five
minutes, for example, really ought to have brought a goal. A promising Watford break fell
apart as the forward line failed to provide enough movement for the advancing midfield to
release the ball quickly. So, instead, Hazan played a negative pass back to Millen on the
halfway line. Millen was caught in possession, a pass released Rankin as Dean Yates stood
with his arm raised appealing for offside. Mercifully, Rankin's indecision allowed him to be
chased down by Yates and the debutant did enough to force a wayward shot.
Things did begin to calm down as half-time approached and Bradford failed to sustain
their early momentum. The only opportunity of note for the visitors in the final
fifteen minutes - a long range shot at Chamberlain by Beagrie - was far-fetched enough
to suggest that the defence had begun to adjust. And, finally, we did create something
that was recognisable as a chance, Ngonge stretching to head Kennedy's corner over the bar when he
ought to have done better.
Half-time worries were eased by an appearance by the Watford IFC team on the pitch -
a thoroughly bizarre experience, particularly since no-one in the stands appeared to
be paying the slightest bit of attention. "When Saturday Comes" demi-god Matt Nation once
wrote an article explaining that, although the average football fan yearns for any opportunity
to set foot on the pitch, they are completely unable to think of anything to do when they've
made it on there. So we ambled about a bit and then sheepishly wandered off - now
I know how Colin Simpson must've felt.
The second half held rather better things in store. A curious pattern is emerging from
this season's games, as we play like blindfolded donkeys for twenty minutes, remove the
blindfolds for a further twenty-five, become recognisably football-playing-human-type-people for half
an hour and then explode in insane panic for the remaining time. It's fun for now, but I
suspect it might become tiresome soon.
Anyway, there was a landmark moment on eight minutes as the Hornets put together something
that was identifiable as an incisive passing movement, playing Allan Smart in for a nifty
lob over the keeper. He was offside at the time, but let's not allow such triviality
to complicate matters.
Bradford continued to carve out openings as the game found some fluency at last. Beagrie fired a well-worked free kick
inches over; a minute later Rankin, looking expensive and cool and groovy like
all seven figure signings should, ran rings round Yates before running free, scuffing a feeble shot at Chamberlain and
Crucially, however, the Watford midfield began to emerge. Previously both Micah Hyde and
Clint Easton had done good things without exerting influence. Now they began to find
ways of making the rest of the team play - Easton, in particular, appeared suddenly
to find confidence in himself as, for perhaps the first time this season, those in the stands enjoyed fifteen
minutes without thinking of Richard Johnson. Not coincidentally, and also for perhaps the first time
this season, we also looked like we were going to score.
Easton's instant transformation began with a darting run and shot, plucked out of the air
by the keeper as it floated towards the top corner. Even better followed, a lovely
attempt at finding Ngonge inside the area with a chipped through-ball. Previously, substitutions
had seemed essential if we were to find a way into the game; suddenly, they seemed less
necessary - they came anyway, though, as Daley and Rosenthal replaced Hazan and Smart.
So, when it came, the goal wasn't undeserved. We'd put together a convincing, engaging
spell of play - that Bradford should've been several goals to the good by that point doesn't
devalue it. Kennedy's corner was half-cleared, Daley retrieved the ball and fed it wide
on the right, Hyde whipped in the most gorgeous cross, Ngonge dived in to head goalwards with
enough power for the ball to creep under Walsh's body and over the line.
Which means that, discounting comedy own goals, we've scored twice this season. Both
from the flanks, both with quality crosses from good positions, both with powerful headers from centre forwards. Methinks
we ought to be learning something about how to play in this division. Kennedy went close to
adding a second five minutes later, as his intended cross from a free kick took a deflection
and forced a full stretch save from Walsh. Again, though, it was a great cross and
great crosses always cause defences trouble.
The obligatory fifteen minutes of undignified chaos later, we emerged with three points.
Keith Millen had somehow hooked the ball out from underneath his own crossbar to prevent
it reaching an unmarked Bradford striker; Lawrence had run into the box and fired across the face
of the goal; Beagrie had instinctively diverted a driven cross wide of the goal. By the end,
jubilation greeted any clearance that made it over the halfway line.
But that's okay. We've played like that for so long, defending one goal leads against
seemingly intolerable injury time pressure, that we must've got reasonably good at it. The
arrival of Robert Page, an absolute master of the last-ditch tackle, seemed to fuel our
resistance, while Millen, Yates, Palmer and Robinson fought so hard. Even Tony
Daley was seen tackling back at one point.
Such is the spirit that ought to see us through this season. Encouragingly, we are picking
up points without impressing, suggesting that we'll be good enough when
everything's fallen into place.
An insufferable pessimist at the best of times, I'm actually quite upbeat about all this. There
is, I think, a very good side hidden within this Watford squad. We've yet to find it,
of course, but we're surviving while the search continues.
Report by Paul Goldsmith
The mind boggles at what Watford can achieve this season if they can win
games like this. Not so much under the cosh as buried deep beneath it
for large periods of the match, the Hornets still managed to eke out a
one-nil victory that puts them joint top of the first division, albeit at
a stage too early to judge what their eventual league fate will be.
Starting out with a much changed line-up - a 4-4-2 formation with
Palmer, Yates, Millen and Robinson's presence meaning that for once
Watford's defence actually contained some defenders - the Hornets looked
a trifle shaky in the defensive third of the field. This was caused
mainly by the fact that Bradford City's forward line had the main asset
of pace, with £1.3m wonder-reserve Isiah Rankin (this is what happens
when you have a clueless manager) looking sharpish alongside the quite
frankly Devon Whitish Lee Mills. These two were supported in particular
by the tricky Peter Beagrie, who looked impressive in the first quarter
but eventually fizzled out.
With Bolland controlling the midfield against the
lightweight pairing of Easton and Hyde, Bradford created numerous
chances. The main ones fell to Rankin, who hit a post, and Bolland, who
shot tamely at Chamberlain having created a good deal of space for
himself. Mills was winning a lot in the air, and Palmer and Robinson
were not looking confident against their speedy adversaries.
But, having weathered the storm, Watford began to attack more. Ngonge
and Smart up front looked a potentially useful contribution, but Ngonge
was plainly not at full pelt, and Smart, notable for his more than
passing resemblance to David Schwimmer (Ross in "Friends"), could not
quite work out how the offside rule applies to him. They were not helped
by the paucity of their supply. This was to improve in the second half,
but Hazan has yet to find his best position, Peter Kennedy continues to
look a shadow of the player he was in the first half of last season, and
Easton and Hyde were yet to impose any superiority over the midfield.
Gradually, though, the balance shifted. Easton gained a modicum of
control and began to spread the ball wide. From one of these, Peter
Kennedy connected with a header that led to a corner. From that corner,
Ngonge rose high above the City defence, but headed disappointingly
high. Eventually, the half time whistle blew, accompanied by some
audible sighs of relief.
An important thought occurred to me at half time. If things had gone
wrong, or if changes were needed, for the first time in years one only
had to look to the bench for encouragement. A bench containing Ronnie
Rosenthal, Tony Daley and Robert Page was meant that Graham Taylor
really did have some options. There's no doubt that Taylor's aim for the
off-season was to strengthen his squad. And when one thinks that he was
able to call on such quality yesterday, with Richard Johnson, Tommy
Mooney, Gifton Noel-Williams, Nigel Gibbs and many more in reserve, it
is easy to see that Taylor's mission is well on its way to being
One name I haven't mentioned is Jason Lee. One can only presume he was
with his expectant wife, but if not, it would be nice to know where he
was. Because Lee provides an option which can be needed sometimes.
Ngonge is not an aerial ballwinner, and it would be interesting to see
how he'd play off Lee.
It was difficult to see where a goal was coming from. Smart put the ball
in the net early in the second half, but again he was ruled offside, and
eventually Taylor could hold out no longer, and put Rosenthal and Daley
on for Smart and Hazan.
After about three minutes, the Israeli won a corner.
Peter Kennedy took it, and the ball was cleared out to him. He
sent the ball over again, but it sailed over the defence, to be
retrieved by Tony Daley, who pushed the ball out to Micah Hyde. Hyde's
cross was superb, zipping low across the goal area. Ngonge was onto it
in a flash, heading the ball down, where it was saved by Bradford's Gary
Walsh. The ball slipped under Walsh's body though, and was over the line before
the onrushing Dean Yates could make sure.
From there on in, it was backs to the wall stuff, although Watford
looked dangerous on the break, a Kennedy free-kick being deflected
towards goal but well saved by Walsh. For Bradford, Rankin missed twice
when clean through, as did Bolland. Chamberlain still looked assured,
but finally Graham Taylor had the bright idea of sending on the
international defender sitting next to him on the bench. From there in
it was a good deal more comfortable, as Robert Page provided the
organization that had been noticeably lacking before. The elusive Tony
Daley also performed well in this period, keeping City on their toes
with his running and tracking back well in defence.
And so the final whistle blew. The Watford players reacted with barely
concealed delight at this, but they must know that this performance will
not be good enough. Bradford and Portsmouth are amongst the weaker teams
in Division 1. It's nice, though that the Hornets are capable of
collecting a nice bagful of points whilst finding this out. Roll on
Bristol City - the Champions are coming your way!
Report by Ben Williams
It's a lovely day. The sun was out, the sky is blue, the clouds are white
and fluffy, and the air is warm. Happy faces all around accentuate the air
of expectation. It's that time of the year like no other. The first home
game. The chance to see the fruits of the manager's summer, the dead beats
and the dead goods. Right up to kick-off the discussions rage, who should
really have gone by now, how good is that free transfer from the club no-one
has heard of.
Then the game kicks off. And a rude shock it is for Watford. Bradford are
able to find a lot of space in the area in front of the Watford back line.
They start knocking it around, almost teasing, daring Yates and Millen to
come and try to get the ball. Luckily, the finishing isn't of the same
standard. Banjo, cow's arse, hit, and unable are the words which spring to
mind. Rankin, all 1.3 million pounds of him, pace and all, failed to put
away three chances, albeit including one that did hit the post.
After about twenty minutes Watford thought about waking up. Muscles were flexed
and stretched, sleepy, full of pre-season layoff laziness eyes were rubbed,
and the game began in earnest. Or it seemed to. Watford simply moved up to
Bradford's level for the rest of the first half, and there is stalemated.
I'm sure the Pedantic Ed will correct me, but I fail to remember a single
Watford chance in the first half (Ngonge, 40 minutes, header over from corner - Pedantic Ed). The only other action was to see one
player get booked for a completely innocuous challenge - again I leave the
Ed. to clarify that one (He was booked for not retreating at a free kick - Pedantic Ed).
Half time, after much anticipation, the Watford IFC trooped down to get
their medals re-presented, and their photo taken. And in much the same way
as it is at a lot of clubs these days, none of the players were interested,
even those not playing. There was a sort of huddle, the bloke with the mike
mumbled something about the Internet, mentioned the name "Pete Fincham"
twice, and "2-2", and that was about all we got. And back trooped the IFC
to their seats.
Second half started much as the first had ended. Smart did have one chance
fairly early, lobbing the ball over Walsh, but was ruled out offside. (Yet
another in the huge list of "offsides" given by some very bad linesmen).
After about ten minutes Watford made a change. To the delight of the home
support, on came Tony Daley and Ronny Rosenthal. Off went Smart, who hadn't
impressed at all, and Alan Hansen, who had been ineffectual up to then.
(Yes, I know it was Alon Hazan, but a) that's what the announcer called
him, and b) saying that Alan Hansen was subbed for being ineffectual is
funnier, and something reporters have probably wanted to say for years).
Daley looked full of running, although not quite match fit. Watford upped
the pace, and after some fluid play, finally forced an opening. Hyde, who
for me had been outstanding, crossed for Ngonge to head down. From where I
was sitting, I saw the ball stopped on the line by Walsh, but a Watford
player (Ronny, someone claimed), and a Bradford defender slid in for it,
and I reckon that the Watford foot pushed the ball over the line (along with
a rather large divot). By this time Ngonge was away celebrating, and who
were we to begrudge it him ? We're football fans, and we're a fickle lot,
and soon were discussing whether he'd actually got the final touch or
Page came on some minutes later, to shore up the defence. This pushed
Kennedy upfield, where he looked a lot happier. He'd been playing sort of
left midfield all game, but wasn't really relishing this, probably because
he was spending a lot of time staying back, well though Robinson was
playing. One or two more openings went Watford's way, but they were not
taken. At the other end, Bradford were still succeeding in their attempts to
miss the goal with as much force as possible. One free kick was smartly
taken, but Beagrie should have been closed down before he got the chance to
The crowning jewel in the performance (I used this word disparagingly, since
I didn't rate it amongst the best I've ever seen) was Kennedy's free kick.
Out on the right. he hit a low shot which got a deflection off a defender
which pushed the shot further towards the far post. Walsh stretched out and
pushed the ball out. Great save. For a balding keeper who eats sandwiches
that opposing fans throw him.
Oh, and the report title. Yes, it was the hilarious sight of GT having a
real go at one of the linesmen after his hundredth crass decision. It was
to give a throw-in the other way, but it was the final back-breaking straw
for Taylor, who jumped up, and went after him, standing eye-to-eye having a
full-blooded rant. Took me back to that one night in 1994......
As for the ref.....well, he was nothing but a bounder and a cad, a
stencher if you will. Who produced nothing but bunkum for the whole game. (And thanks to Rupe for the insertion of those great words.)
See also: Bradford City News Pages City Gent