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Nationwide League Division 1, 12/9/98
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 4, Kennedy 3, Yates 4, Millen 3, Mooney 4, Smart 3, Hyde 3, Ngonge 3, Johnson 3, *Wright 4*
Subs: Page, Hazan (for Wright) 4, Noel-Williams (for Ngonge) 3
Scorers: Millen (5), Smart (85)
Queens Park Rangers 1(0)
Scorers: Slade (73)
More, please
Report by Ian Grant

So, for once, I don't have to waste your time with idiosyncratic introductions and general waffle. For once, there's just too much to say.

This, y'see, was an exciting performance. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but exciting. As with all such occasions, it's only reasonable to note the quality of the opposition - and QPR have jumped aboard the express train to Cack Central - but that doesn't alter the fact that the right approach stands a very good chance of succeeding against anyone. And this time the approach was spot on.

Take the crossing, previously the subject of much derision on these pages. Gone, mercifully, were the lazy, hopeful, defender-friendly crosses we've seen too much of so far. Back, hallelujah, were those evil, pacy, striker-friendly crosses that just beg for a finishing touch. Whipped in early between defenders and goalkeeper, not even Rupert Murdoch's money could buy players who'd enjoy dealing with that kind of service. Oh, Nigel Gibbs is back as well. Coincidence?

But one player stole the spotlight on Saturday. One player made me leave Vicarage Road feeling thrilled, rather than merely content. On this evidence, Nick Wright is a potential Vic Road hero.

Wright was simply a revelation. Apart from the enthusiasm and eagerness you'd expect from any home debutant, he showed a knack of ghosting into goal-scoring positions that we've not seen since you-know-who left for the North-East. Playing behind Allan Smart and Michel Ngonge, he appeared to be able to make himself invisible to the QPR defence - and, crucially, he had the awareness to take full advantage. In addition, he showed the confidence to forget about getting brutally mugged by Vinnie Jones in the first half - we've seen several players who'd simply have disappeared out of the game after such treatment.

Why doesn't Wright get full marks from the BSaD jury, then? Pretty obvious, really. Look at the score sheet. He's not on it.

Of course, the youngster wasn't the only Watford player guilty of wasting chances. And part of the reason for the excitement surrounding this match was that we actually created chances to waste. One step at a time. Nevertheless, what ought to have been a very comfortable victory became something of a last-gasp scramble. In the last twenty minutes, Rangers could have snatched all three points, when they shouldn't have been in a position to do anything but search for a consolation goal.

The first thirty minutes were absolutely frenetic, entertainment packed in as if in compensation for the dour failure of the last two matches. The result arguably hinged on one incident just a couple of minutes after kickoff, as Keith Millen was bundled off the ball on the byline and Scully contrived to shoot feebly wide in front of a virtually unguarded goal. Had QPR taken the lead at that point....

Instead, the Hornets simply roared forward, attacking with an intelligence so lacking in previous matches. The first real Watford attack, only seconds later, provided the perfect example of the improvement. From a free kick on the halfway line, Dean Yates could've done the expected and lumped a high ball into the penalty area. Instead, he spotted that Wright had drifted into a position on the edge of the box and played a quick, accurate pass into his feet. The end result was a harmless, bundled finish but the approach was excellent.

As the first Gibbs cross of the afternoon skidded its way through the six yard box, just eluding diving strikers, the momentum became unstoppable. From the resulting corner, the ball was half-cleared to Micah Hyde. His shot hit Keith Millen on the arse and span away into the net. One-nil to the Golden Boys.

And it should've been two-nil within a minute. Peter Kennedy's left wing free kick sailed over to the far post, Allan Smart rose to head back across goal and Tommy Mooney somehow flicked his header wide with the goal at his mercy. We were causing mayhem. Another Kennedy cross, following Gibbs' example by using pace and direction rather than height, just flashed beyond Smart's lunge a couple of minutes later.

Things calmed down a little after the ten minute mark, although Kennedy fired over and Ngonge got on the end of another Gibbs centre. The second, and final, QPR attack of the half began with Scully accelerating through the midfield and ended with Sheron floating a header harmlessly over the bar.

After a ten minute breather, we returned to swamp QPR with yet another barrage. Ngonge missed the best Watford chance of the match after twenty minutes, played through after some typically fierce persistence by the midfield and sliding his shot into the side netting. He should've scored.

Wright went close twice more, demonstrating a really thrilling ability to find space inside the penalty area. First, he sent a tricky volley wobbling towards goal, only to see it deflected wide by a defender. Then he lost his marker at a Kennedy free kick and forced a tremendous save from the keeper with his header - although, perhaps, he might've done more to make the save impossible.

So we ended the opening half hour in a position of utter supremacy, with only one (fortunate) goal to show for our fine efforts. But let's not dwell on that for too long. It's been a helluva while since we looked likely to score from open play - although we failed to kill QPR off, we did at least manage to knock 'em down. That's a positive, we shouldn't be looking to turn it into a negative.

The entertainment rather tailed off during the remaining fifteen minutes, Kennedy's long-range half-volley at the keeper providing the only note-worthy incident.

A Rangers second half revival wasn't exactly unexpected. We survived the tricky spell just after the interval, but only just. Within a couple of minutes of the re-start, Sheron poked a shot wide after a bundle inside the area. Ten minutes later, a header from a corner was cleared off the line. Those missed chances seemed likely to return to haunt us, as the away side grew in confidence and nerves started to jangle.

Yet again it was Nick Wright who found himself with the opportunity to put the result beyond doubt. Kennedy dragged a shot across the face of goal, Wright sneaked in at the far post and snatched a shot into the side netting under challenge - a little more bravery, risking collision with either post or goalkeeper, might've seen him score.

As it seemed that Watford were gaining the upper hand once more, dominating the midfield with continuous, frenzied pressing whenever Rangers got possession, the sickening equaliser came. It was the classic goal on the break, Kennedy brushed aside in a tussle, Johnson and Millen failing to pick up Slade's run. The finish, low past Chamberlain, was punch-in-the-guts clinical.

At that point, the chances of a happy journey back to Brighton seemed very slim. Another quick break provided Slade with the chance to put Rangers into the lead - thankfully, he completely blew it by slicing his shot high and wide. Gallen rattled the bar with a header shortly afterwards, as that crucial victory appeared to drift further and further from our grasp.

Graham Taylor's bemoaned the lack of fight from the players in recent matches, the too ready acceptance of defeat that falls far below the standards set by teams from previous eras. Not this time. Two men played key roles in a match-winning last ten minutes, shrugging off the setback and refusing to be beaten.

We've come to expect such obstinacy from Tommy Mooney, greeted like a conquering hero as he strode out onto the pitch before the match, but it's something that I'll never tire of seeing. He did nothing special this time, apart from trying an outrageous dive in the box (top tip: next time, try throwing yourself on the ground when there's an opposition player within ten yards). Yet his attitude, picking up the ball and absolutely charging forwards, sent a very clear rallying cry to the rest of the team.

Alon Hazan, on for the knackered Wright, is less well known for his displays of passion but a spell of buzzing, urgent play from him had a similarly important impact. It was his low shot, palmed wide by the keeper at the foot of the post, that signalled the fight-back that was to win us three points.

Allan Smart's goal made every moment of moaning about our crossing worthwhile. If any of our wide players want a 'this is how to do it' example, look no further. Hazan laid the ball off to Gibbs on the right wing, and the cross was just beautiful. As the ball skimmed viciously through the area, it appeared that no-one would be able to take advantage and the frustrated howl was already readying itself in my throat. Then, as if by magic, the roof of the net was bulging and the howl was drowned by joyous pandemonium - Smart had thrown himself beyond the far post and somehow managed to hook the ball back into the goal, Gibbs' cross had got the finish it deserved, the earlier anxiety disappeared in a glorious flash.

Our lead wasn't greatly threatened after that, as Rangers' heads went down. Indeed, we might've scored a third - Gifton Noel-Williams' pull back found Watford players trampling over each other at the near post but no-one hanging back around the penalty spot. This time, seeing another chance go begging didn't seem so important.

You know me. There's nothing I enjoy more than refusing to enjoy myself. But, after a week's worth of grimly contemplating the implications of takeovers and super leagues, this was as refreshing as a can of Irn Bru on a hungover Sunday morning.

Yeah, we nearly blew it. So what? All I can ask of this Watford side is that they play with some ambition, that they give it everything they've got. If that happens, I'll not complain about the occasional defeat, a few missed chances, some defensive calamities. Under those criteria, Saturday was fab. More please.

A bit of a corker
Report by Baz Barry

This was a novel experience. Trying to watch the game from the front row of the "family enclosure" in the main stand, with a Spurs fan, a QPR "follower", four kids all aged under six, three making their debuts at a football ground, is not conducive to a detailed analysis of the encounter.

On arrival everything was rosy. The scale of the stadium, the impressive bright green pitch, the noise from the PA (too loud) and the size and buzz of the crowd held the youngsters in awe. Love them or loath them, Mr and Mrs H Hornet were also a huge hit. Once the ref blew his whistle, sadly and somewhat predictably, child attentions lasted between ten and sixty minutes and persistent distractions followed thereafter. Twice unpacking and repacking assorted rainwear didn't help and the groin-high view was incomprehensible (to child and adult alike). Small wonder that I can only give an abridged view of the game, which is a shame really because from the bits I did take in, it looked to be a bit of a corker.

Beforehand, I'd warned my two chums that Watford hadn't been playing well and GT was still trying to find his best combination of players. Very soon after the start I was happy to be eating my words. After an early scare the other end (I didn't realise it was a missed open goal) we attacked with incision, persistence and width. Wright was rightly (!) the hero, the catalyst and end result of much of our attacking play. Johno and Micah were doing what was expected of them, Kennedy contributing tellingly and effectively and Smart working his socks off, chasing and winning at least three lost causes. The Moonster added much needed heart and passion and I actually saw Yates shouting at others and organising the defence.

Shape-wise I read it a 4-3-3 but others (higher up) may disagree. You could see we were trying to play balls behind their left back for Ngonge to use his pace. Tommy and Kennedy were creating tension on the left, pulling QPR over early on and leaving Gibbsy with a huge amount space on the right. He didn't waste it.

With the brain agreeing that The Ginger One correctly got the Man of the Match, my heart said it had to be Gibbs. With 441 outings for the Horns (just think about it - 441 games for one club), he is Mr Watford, with a Ph.D. in Reliability. He is an icon and a gentleman. He is "Everything That Is Good About The Game" in this depressing age of satellite-induced elitism. There should be a broadsheet campaign to give him the national recognition he so richly deserves. He should be given the Freedom of the Town, a golden tracksuit and free Double Deckers for life. Every game he plays should be greeted with wild acclaim, we should chant his name 'til we're hoarse, bow reverently when he runs on to the pitch. I love him to bits. (End of Nigel Gibbs Love-In.)

We should have been well ahead by half time. Mooney wasted a clear header. Ngonge shot into the side netting when clean through. Wright had a header well saved. Other shots were blocked or cleared, I think. Their sizeable support (three quarters of the Rookery) was soon chanting for Gerry Francis and later gave Gallen some serious and alarming stick. In Vinnie Jones fashion they tried to bully their way out of the corner we had them in, but we didn't let up. Scully looked useful for them, creating their other chance of the first half when dribbling forever to cross for a header to go over.

The break gave QPR time to regroup and afterwards they came into the game. One header from a corner was cleared off the line. Scully went on another run (where was my hero?) playing-in their sub (Slade) who sprinted past our lumbering central pair and clipped the ball past Alec. For a while the game could easily have gone from us. They had the bit between their teeth and looked the more likely team. Slade went for glory, blazing wide/over when in another free situation (aaaaakkk!! Hoddle speak!). Later the ref gave them a non-existent corner that none of their players or fans called for. I just had time to say to my QPR chum that it would be typical for Rangers to score from such a crap/bizarre decision when Gallen nearly obliged with a header against the bar.

We weathered the storm and redemption came in the form of an inspired and impressive double substitution. Alon seemed to take immediate control of all possession and creativity and The Gift looked a right handful. He appears to have grown taller, stronger and faster. If GT's tinkering continues, why not try him with Smart or Ngonge? On this evidence he wouldn't disappoint. Significantly, Hazan and Gibbsy (and apparently a GNW touch) created the winner. I didn't see Smart's finish, just the net bulging and the crowd's ecstatic reaction.

Afterwards my chums thought a draw would have been a fair result. I knew different.

See also: QPR Unofficial