No end product
Report by Ian Grant
All the current talk of transfers and new blood and "lack of ambition" is just a smokescreen, nothing
more than the standard knee-jerk reaction of football fans. (It ceaselessly amuses me that the demands
for spending on new players are never accompanied by sensible names. Sign someone, the
supporters seem to cry...even if we're immediately going to realise that they're crap, start slagging them off and
demand a repeat performance.) It is a smokescreen in two ways: first, it hides the considerable achievements of
this squad of players; second, it allows them to get away with performances like this.
Because, even if you accept that the forward positions need some urgent attention, that
doesn't excuse the rest. Whether it's Mooney or Batistuta playing centre forward, they
have a right to expect some half-decent crosses to compete for. Whether it's Ngonge or
Ronaldo up front, conceding a goal approximately thirty seconds after you've scored doesn't
demonstrate great concentration. And so on, and so on.
There's no point in singling out individuals. Given that our striking options
were minimal, there were simply too many poor and average displays last night - Peter Kennedy, Darren Bazeley,
Steve Palmer, Tommy Mooney, Michel Ngonge, Tony Daley, Ben Iroha, Nick Wright. Some of these made occasionally
distinctive contributions - indeed, Daley and Iroha were momentarily dazzling - but none of them
really rose to the occasion. That's got little or nothing to do with our transfer policy; it's not even
got too much to do with missing our regular forwards.
And it's all the more disappointing because we had an absolute stranglehold on the midfield
for most of the match. Micah Hyde's headlines will again be about an appalling miss, but he was an
able and willing assistant to the monstrous Richard Johnson. Back to his growling, prowling
best, Johnno fought for the centre of the pitch like it was the last bit of green grass on earth...and won. But,
having established his right to rule, he found his team-mates less than co-operative - time and again,
particularly in the first half, we watched our play-maker turning in circles in search of someone
to receive an incisive pass. His service was immaculate...but no-one seemed to want to be served.
So the first half was thoroughly grotty. Aside from a Huddersfield goal that was disallowed for a
foul on Alec Chamberlain as he came to collect a cross, it took a full thirty minutes
for any kind of noteworthy incident to arrive. Even then, that was only a looping header from
Mooney that Vaesen collected with ease. Johnson and Daley both sent in off-target shots as the
match spluttered into life, while Huddersfield might've done better with a couple of
openings at the other end - particularly when Stewart headed weakly with two
better placed but silent colleagues behind him.
Ultimately, however, we should've still gone into the second half in the lead. Mooney's
break on thirty-six minutes was unusually potent, his pass to Kennedy out on the left
provided time and space for an equally rare measured cross. Mooney met it in the centre and,
although he couldn't direct the header, Wright nipped in to beat Vaesen to the ball. The cut-back
to Hyde was perfect but the finish was awful, scraped hopelessly past the post. As long as he
continues to turn in tidy, unselfish midfield performances like last night's, I'll be one of the
first to defend Hyde from his critics - he doesn't half make it difficult sometimes, though.
So, after Huddersfield's Johnson had headed straight at Chamberlain from close range, the first forty-five ended
with neither keeper having had to make a serious save. Grim. The (presumably forced) withdrawal of Tony Daley
at half-time didn't make things any happier.
In truth, although the second half offered rather better entertainment, we ended it slightly
fortunate not to lose. While the away side gained momentum, the Hornets remained abject -
the forward play was disjointed and ineffective, the crossing that might've by-passed it was absolutely wretched, the defence
was gradually pierced by pacy Huddersfield breaks, only the midfield held its ground proudly.
For twenty-five minutes, we did contain the visitors and create sporadic chances. We did
so in the most uninspiring manner imaginable, but by this time no-one was being too fussy
about how we won the game. Nick Wright sprinted onto a through-ball after five minutes, broke free but was
felled by Phillips - a yellow card was the referee's verdict and, with
Wright's theatrical tumble to take into account, it was difficult to argue. Kennedy and
Johnson stood over the free kick. Vaesen's first move was to his right, expecting a curler over the wall, but
Kennedy drove it low into the other corner - stumbling back across his line, the Huddersfield keeper got his
fingertips to the ball for an excellent save.
Tommy Mooney's chance seemingly came and went after a quarter of an hour, when Iroha's
foray into the box ended a rebound off a defender but was wasted by a scuffed right foot
shot. Ten minutes later, after despair had really started to make itself at home, we made a bizarrely
innocuous breakthrough. Johnson's free kick came from a central position, so he could do nothing
but drift it into the area - yet the Huddersfield defence had elected to leave Mooney entirely unmarked on the corner
of the six yard box, allowing him to direct a downward header across Vaesen and into the corner. More relief than joy.
The relief lasted less than a minute. Having posed little or no threat for the preceding seventy minutes,
Huddersfield suddenly swarmed all over us and were immediately level. Baldry, who had Iroha in
trouble for much of the night, cut his way through to the byeline, crossed, and Beech headed home
from close range. Having struggled so much to get ourselves into the lead, we'd thrown it
away with ridiculous carelessness.
Back to square one? Oh, worse than that. Having finally realised that the occasional bit
of attacking endeavour would bring reward, Huddersfield went for the win and damn nearly got it. Only
the brilliance of Chamberlain saved us. After half an hour, a lovely move down the left seemed to
sell the whole Watford defence a dummy and Baldry was in, only for Chamberlain to spring forward and parry
the shot. Even better followed, Stewart's acrobatic half-volley from distance leaving the keeper scrambling
across to claw the ball out by the post.
With Stewart twice going close in the last five minutes - a shot that went narrowly wide and a bad miss following
devastating work down the left wing by substitute Facey - hopes of a late Watford winner
weren't high. Sure, we managed to ponderously build up some pressure in injury time, with Tommy Smith
adding some much needed spark and Iroha rampaging forward on one occasion, but it was nothing for our opponents to be frightened of.
One late moment springs to mind as a neat summary of our faults. Huddersfield broke from their own
area as a Watford attack faltered. Richard Johnson stood in the way, impassable, and
won the ball with such pickpocketing precision that his victim
seemed to carry on running forward for ten yards before he realised he was no longer in possession. He turned,
spotted Bazeley coming forward on the right wing - the pass was a real gem, so accurate that it pretty much passed under the chin
of the Huddersfield defender on its way to its recipient. Poetry in motion so far, and I guess
you're waiting for the anticlimax - well, Darren just dumped a lazy, hanging cross to the far post, Nick Wright was barged out of the way,
the attack was dead in an instant.
Great midfield play, no end product.
See also: The Huddersfield Net