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Nationwide League Division 1, 15/8/98
Watford 1(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Hazan 2, Kennedy 2, Palmer 3, Millen 4, Yates 3, Smart 2, Hyde 3, Ngonge 3, *Easton 4*, Robinson 4
Subs: Page (for Ngonge) 0, Rosenthal (for Smart) 2, Daley (for Hazan) 3
Scorers: Ngonge (63)
Bradford City 0(0)
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 likely too....

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 interesting.

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 by Chamberlain.

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 looking stupid.

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.

Ngonge nluck!
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 successful.

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!

Oi, linesman!
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 not...

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 shoot.

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