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Nationwide League Division 1, 19/9/98
Swindon Town 1(1)
Scorers: Ndah (29)
Watford 4(2)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 4, Kennedy 3, Yates 3, Millen 3, Mooney 3, *Smart 5*, Hyde 4, Ngonge 3, Johnson 4, Wright 4
Subs: Page (for Millen) 0, Hazan (for Wright) 5, Noel-Williams (for Ngonge) 3
Scorers: Smart (37, 58), Wright (44), Hazan (50)
Good times
Report by Ian Grant


So much of modern football is about striving for a higher level. That's especially true of the current First Division, at least half of which is completely obsessed with promotion.

And that ambition tends to obscure the here and now. Wins like Saturday's should be enjoyed for what they are, not what they might lead to. That the three points takes us up to fifth place really doesn't matter to me; that they were gained by having so much hilarious, brilliant fun means everything. This was an absolute blast.

For half an hour, mind you, any kind of Watford win seemed like an insanely remote possibility. For half an hour, we stank. The initiative was surrendered to a Swindon side lacking confidence without any kind of struggle. Like an unpunctuated sentence, our play was without structure or identifiable meaning.

Swindon weren't a great deal better, in truth. The home side's knackered old bandwagon slowly lurched into life, belching out suffocating fumes at first, then gradually struggling through the gears. Nought to thirty in ten minutes? Impressive stuff....

A full sixty seconds' worth of chaos in the Watford penalty area (my notes, ever useful, just say "stuff happened") after ten minutes set the scene. Mark Walters, Swindon's greatest threat throughout, fired the first of countless free kicks at Alec Chamberlain shortly afterwards, then cut inside from the right wing to shoot wide.

Things began to get really alarming as Kerslake went on a charge and drove in a low shot that was deflected wide by a defender. The resulting corner fell to Walters, whose floated cross-stroke-lob was headed off the line at full stretch by Nigel Gibbs.

So, basically, there wasn't much arguing when Swindon took the lead. Still a pretty hideous goal to give away, mind. Alec Chamberlain's clearance was headed back unchallenged, catching Dean Yates off-guard. That momentary loss of concentration was enough to allow Ndah to take control of the situation, brushing Yates aside and motoring through to knock the ball past Chamberlain as he advanced.

Not good. Half an hour gone, one-nil down, no sign of so much as a Watford chance. The only entertainment had come from childish self-amusement, giggling at the psychiatric disorders on show among our increasingly agitated and irate supporters and occasionally bellowing "IDIOT!" in tribute to Matt Rowson's vitriolic match preview. Fun, sure...but perhaps not quite worth sixty quid....

Thankfully, the referee saved us. As his display of unrestrained buffoonery ("IDIOT!") reached its magnificent crescendo with some completely mystifying decisions, we reacted as if to a slap in the face. A sense of injustice got our blood pumping, momentarily unsettling a Swindon side that had begun to look very settled indeed.

There were a couple of signs of things to come. Allan Smart failed to control a neat through-ball from Micah Hyde, then stood stunned as soon as he realised that no Swindon defenders had bothered to challenge him and he ought to have scored. Nick Wright, again lively in and around the box, worked his way inside to hit a low shot that was gathered with ease by the keeper.

Even so, even with that mini-revival, the equaliser was still a laughable, hysterical, wonderful injustice. Smart drifted into space on the edge of the area and was found with a Gibbs pass from the right wing. As he brought the ball down, perhaps remembering the earlier opportunity, he seemed initially unsure how to approach the situation. Then, like someone finding the answer to a tricky crossword clue, he was suddenly inspired into action, flicking the ball up and over the helpless keeper. Delightful finish.

The floodgates opened. What had begun as a slight fight-back against refereeing incompetence suddenly became a full-on assault, the Hornets demolishing Swindon in a twenty minute spell either side of half-time.

Kennedy might've put Watford in the lead just after the equaliser, only to slip at the crucial moment as Smart played him in. Then Gibbs received the ball on the right wing, and was given plenty of time and space to pick out the best crossing option. He delivered the ball perfectly onto the forehead of Michel Ngonge at the far post. The Swindon keeper pulled off a fine save, low down to his right, but Nick Wright once again showed that knack of gatecrashing the penalty area party, prodding the rebound over the line from a yard out.

Bizarrely, that was probably the last time either Ngonge or Wright touched the ball before being substituted at half-time. The interval changes were simply inspired, especially the arrival of Alon Hazan for Wright. At the time, it seemed an extraordinary move - taking off an eager, fit, lively player just a couple of minutes after he'd scored his first goal for the club. In retrospect, it secured the result.

Wright had done well. Hazan was magnificent. At last, we seem to have found a way of getting the best from him. Playing behind the strikers, he's more involved in the play and has the options in front of him to make his class count. Throughout the second period, he provided the links for our attacking play, taking full advantage of the space donated by a Swindon side that regularly over-committed itself. The threat of a Watford goal was always there.

The second half was pure laugh-a-minute comedy. Swindon's luckless attempts at getting back in the game resulted in a kind of Basil Fawlty-style exasperation, fighting an endless losing battle against insurmountable odds. Basking in the September sunshine, it was tremendous theatre, classic farce. I loved every moment.

After Walters had sent yet another free kick over the bar, a lovely move made it 3-1 to the Hornets. Allan Smart's control, turn and lay-off was simply sublime; Alon Hazan finished it off with a firmly-struck shot.

Ten minutes of hilariously ineffective and desperate Swindon pressure later, it was four. Gifton Noel-Williams broke down the right wing, played the ball across to Smart, and he unselfishly knocked it on to Richard Johnson on the left side of the area. The Swindon keeper saved the shot well, but was unable to prevent Smart from heading in the rebound.

A word, before we continue, about Allan Smart. The word is "fan-flipping-tastic". Not just the goals, although God knows we've needed a decent poacher in the last few months, but the overall contribution. A team player; a willing worker, full of intelligent, constructive touches; an absolute star. He may not be the most eye-catching player on the block but he ought to be proud of this victory, his baby.

Swindon hit the woodwork for the first time a couple of minutes later, Gooden smashing in a (surprise!) free kick that flicked off the bar with Chamberlain beaten. Rather than increasing anxiety, it only confirmed beyond doubt that this was to be our day. All the luck was with us, all the joy was ours.

Micah Hyde had what appeared to be a decent claim for a penalty turned down after he'd wriggled into the box and beaten a defender - but that was to even itself out later. Then Borrows, who's been playing football for about as long as I've been alive, was left all on his own by a curious defensive manoeuvre that seemed to involve leaving the entire left side of the pitch empty of Watford players - fortunately, he skied his shot ("IDIOT!") and howled his annoyance in a most amusing manner.

The entertainment just kept on a-comin'. Ndah, already frustrated to the point of explosion, was barged over in the box and remained on his knees in absolute torment when the referee turned down his appeal. Funny beyond belief. After Noel-Williams had set up Kennedy for a shot that was brilliantly saved, Ndah could control himself no longer, getting involved in a kerfuffle with Johnson that ended with both players receiving yellow cards. That meant yet another free kick, from which Walters hit the inside of the post, the ball bouncing along the goal-line as Chamberlain watched and Swindon players looked to the sky in helpless frustration. By that stage, some of us were nearly crying with laughter.

Did we deserve to win this 4-1? No, not really. Will we find it as easy against Ipswich next week? No, not really. Do I care? No, not really. Y'see, I haven't enjoyed forty-five minutes of football so much in eons. We weren't great, we weren't efficient, but for an hour this was ludicrous, fab, wobbly, goal-tastic fun. A great big raspberry jelly of a football match. With ice cream. (Sorry, am I getting carried away?)

So, having stayed to observe a pitch invasion and protest by Swindon fans, we wandered station-wards as happy as can be. The homeward-bound trains were delayed but for once perfectly so, the late departure timed to coincide with our arrival at the station; news filtered through of heart-warming defeats for Luton and Palace. Perfect, just perfect.

Good times. Enjoy.

Daylight robbery
Report by Chris Lawton

Of all the footie grounds up and down the country, Swindon is the one I have visited most (after the Vic of course). I have never seen Watfod win there - in fact, I have rarely seen us get a draw. A typical game at Swindon consists of cold, damp weather, poor refereeing and a poor Watford performance.

With warm late summer sunshine blazing down on the fans it seemed possible that just for once we might enjoy ourselves. The opening exchanges were fairly even although two trends were set. Firstly the linesman with the yellow flag appeared to be linked into the Swindon crowd - whatever they appealed for he gave. The other trend was the referee was intent on give Swindon every free kick under the sun, even when a Watford player won a clean tackle.

Slowly Swindon took control, although not totally through their own skill. The Watford defence developed an alarming tendancy to dive in at the first opportunity and consequently give the Swindon players, in particular Mark Walters, time and space to cross and shoot. The other mistake commonly made in this opening quarter was the inability to clear the ball. Too often players tried to be clever and keep the ball in, only to end up conceding the ball and position.

Watford seemed to have weathered the storm, clearing a couple of chances off the line and surviving a couple of penalty scares. Chamberlain, who in my opinion still looks suspect, then cleared the ball straight to a Swindon player who unchallenged fed the ball through for some big bloke up front to run onto and slot easily past Chamberlain as he raced off his line.

A goal down, away from home and being making too many mistakes. The best we could hope for was half time and a few changes from GT. Suddenly our luck turned. After thirty-five minutes the referee finally gave us a free kick - our first of the match. The kick was quickly taken and as the ball dropped in behind the defence Smart and Ngonge left it for each other with it eventually rolling to the keeper off Smart's shin. Still it was cause for encouragement.

Three minutes later we were level. A sharp cross from Gibbs was helped over the advancing keeper my Smart and the ball went in at the far post. In an instant the game had changed. Swindon's heads started to fall and Watford realised that they would probably go in level when in reality they should have been two down. Right on half time though the situation changed again. A pinpoint cross from Gibbs was met well by Ngonge who headed the ball downwards in textbook style. The keeper only parried the ball back to the feet of the advancing Wright who bundled the ball home. Half time arrived and the disbelief amongst the fans was overshadowed by the fact that we were actually winning.

The second half saw two immediate changes with Hazon and Gifton on Wright and Ngonge, both of whom had done well in a difficult first half. Swindon blazed an early free kick over, from the goalkick Watford built slowly and steadily from the back moving the ball well to make an opening for Hazon to latch onto a through ball and guide the ball past the keeper. This was game over and ten minutes later a similar build up led to a Johnno shot being half saved ony for Smart to dive in to head the rebound home.

With thirty minutes to go and 4-1 up Watford controlled the game. Swindon's best chances came from two free kicks, one of which hit the bar and the other the post with Chamberlain stranded on both occassions. When Watford wanted to they easied forward and Johnno had two long range efforts curl wide and Kennedy was denied by a sharp save by the keeper.

In the end 4-1 flattered us slightly but the feeling was that we did deserve to win. We made as many chances as Swindon if not more. Although we were outplayed in that opening period we recovered our composure well and played a controlled game in the second half which denied Swindon any chances from inside the box.

The team for ten minutes either side of half time looked keen and sharp and passed the ball around very well using the spaces on the pitch to good effect in creating goal scoring opportunities. In that opening quarter we were dismal and lacked and confidence in ability or self belief that we could win. Once we went a goal down that seemed to vanish and the team realised that they had a job to do and got on with doing it.

I still think that Chamberlain is suspect. I know this might cause some debate amongst fans but my concern is not totally without evidence. At least three times on Saturday Chamberlain was nowhere near the ball when shots were fired in from the edge of the area, something I had also noticed against Portsmouth. No doubt time will tell on this one but I wouldn't be surprised if we had a new keeper by the end of the season. As for the rest of the team, Kennedy looks out of touch at the moment, Smart looks an excellent purchase and will do well for us, Wright I am uncertain of with the same being said of Ngonge. Overall we have a solid balanced team that perhaps lacks a bit of confidence and self belief. Long term we have the nucleaus of a squad that could go all the way but I think that will be next season not this.

This was magic, groovers
Report by Rupert Licht

Losing 1-0 and with only seven minutes of the first half to go, I was very depressed. Swindon were crap and Watford were playing that special kind of fanny football that goes sideways and never forwards. Pfff. Suddenly Alan Smart is through and he lobs the keeper and it drops sexily into the net - the ball seems to be in the air for ages like a balloon, which transpires to be a magic sign - more of that later. With a minute to go Ngonge powers a header in which the goalkeeper can only parry and Nick Wright is poaching to poke the ball into the net. Woo-hoo.

Half-time was memorable as the attendance was announced. It would make my football much more enjoyable if more clubs could follow Swindon's great example.

In the second half, GNW and Alon Hazan come on. Alon is really fired up - he does not deserve the stick he gets and it looks like he has got some special powers recently as he is playing like a demon, he scored a wicked long shot. Finally to wrap it up, a shot comes in from Johno I think, the keeper parries it, and Smart scores with a diving header - an excellent goal as the ball was bouncing around and was very low. Swindon hit the post a couple of times, but this was to be our day.

Also, I shouted out "I have in my hand a piece of paper" to Alec Chamberlain again. Wow, what a man. He turned round, acknowledged me for a minute, looking right at me and then giving me a special secret Watford power wave.

Then on the way home, over in the sky, there are giant ballons above the M4. There really was a giant fire extinguisher in the air, along with a house and giant faces. Flying in the sky, they were signalling that magic is in the air.

See also: The Norris Family Website