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98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 26/2/99
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 2, Page 3, Palmer 3, Robinson 2, Wright 3, Smith 3, *Smart 3*, Johnson 3, Easton 2
Subs: Hazan (for Kennedy) 2, Mooney (for Easton) 2, Daley (for Smith) 2
Swindon Town 1(1)
Scorers: Howe (45)
Witch hunt
Report by Ian Grant

Dreadful, in all respects.

Painfully, we're actually battling against ourselves as much as our opponents. The lack of confidence shown by certain key players - and that really is all that's wrong with them - directly results from some disgraceful behaviour by sections of the Watford support. We're sixth and there's a witch hunt going on.

So Micah Hyde's already gone. One down, ten more to go. And, although it'd be unfashionable to admit it, we missed him in this match - not all his ideas are good ones...but he does at least have ideas. Allan Smart will be next. Like Hyde, he's more than an eleventh of the reason why we're fighting for a playoff spot and remains a good, unselfish influence on a struggling side, yet one could hardly blame him if he didn't want to hang around Vicarage Road to suffer abuse. Who comes after that? Peter Kennedy? Darren Bazeley? Nicky Wright? Richard Johnson?

Criticism is one thing. We all pay our money, we all have the right to comment. We can all show our displeasure at a wretched home defeat by a completely average Swindon side. Fair enough. As the editor of a fanzine, I'd be completely hypocritical to say otherwise.

But there's a whole world of difference between criticism and abuse. Making wanker gestures at your centre forward is abuse. So is bellowing "F*** off back to Scotland" at him. Like I say, there's a witch hunt going on. How else can you explain the sheer relish with which those responsible launch their attacks?

Players, even those of the quality shown by Allan Smart earlier in the season, are ultimately expendable. Graham Taylor isn't. Having assembled this side and taken it so far, it'd be out of character for him to watch it fall apart under his nose. These are his players. When Smart finally slings in his transfer request, it'll be his side that suffers.

Don't get me wrong. For the most part, the support from the home fans was tremendous. The Vic Road end, usually deathly whenever things are going as badly as they were on this occasion, generated some serious noise to lift the team in the second half. Any of the Portsmouth fans who wondered whether we were awake during our January encounter and happened to be watching on telly must've been surprised. Brilliant stuff, undermined by the lynch mob.

Only a complete bloody moron screams insults at a player, then wonders why they show no ambition next time they get the ball. We lost this because we were horribly dull, predictable and unadventurous - and, again referring back to Hyde, we were dull, predictable and unadventurous because anyone who shows initiative is simply making themselves a target. You don't have to have a doctorate in psychology to work that one out....

I'm not denying anything. We were awful and you'll get a full account of that in a moment. Bearing in mind that confidence is the real problem here, it'd just be a small crumb of comfort to be able to think that the supporters were contributing to the process of turning it around. Tell Ronaldo that he's rubbish enough times and he'll believe it.

To the match, if we must. It's difficult to convey the grubby monotony of games like this - in picking out the negligible highlights, you lose the rest. And the rest contains the important stuff - the lack of movement, the dreadful crossing, the lightweight attack, the inadequacy of it all. On many occasions this season, these reports haven't done justice to the football they describe. This time, it's the other way around.

We just didn't play in the first half. Slow out of the blocks, we were chasing the game from the start - Swindon might not be anything special but you can't afford to let any side in this division take the initiative to such an extent. At a time when we needed to establish ourselves and find some confidence, the defence was the only part of the side in gainful employment.

The goal attempts were harmless enough - two efforts from Ndah, one straight at Alec Chamberlain, one acrobatically off target; a long range shot from the impressive Hay that was sliced wide; a weak Hay header from Gooden's left wing cross; a Gooden free kick driven over. But Swindon at least managed some goal attempts while Watford huffed and puffed with no inkling. Only once did we threaten in the first half hour, setting Tommy Smith free but seeing him crowded out by defenders. Otherwise, second best.

Ironically, it did pick up in the fifteen minutes prior to the Swindon winner. The turgid play remained, but it was punctuated by moments of fluency.

In one of his very few positive contributions, Paul Robinson found room to fire in a cross after half an hour. Smart was on the end of it, laying it off intelligently for Kennedy to lean back and shoot over. Six minutes later, an exquisite pass by Johnson put in Wright who couldn't make any real contact on the volley.

Robert Page saved Robinson, blocking Hay's shot after the full back's cumbersome footwork had got him caught in possession, before Swindon struck the painful blow just prior to half-time. A corner was headed clear, falling to Howe who hit it on the half-volley and sent it sailing back through the crowded box. Chamberlain had no chance, Swindon were ahead, heads went down.

With two changes at the interval (Tony Daley and Alon Hazan for Tommy Smith and Peter Kennedy, neither of whom had made any impression), the second half could only be an improvement. And it was. Ish.

Swindon adopted very familiar tactics, defending in numbers and using the pace of their forwards to hit us on the break. At no point in the last three or four seasons has a Watford side shown the ability to break down such a rearguard and this was no exception. Our attempts lacked no effort, we had enough possession in the opposition half to have saved on the electricity bill by turning the Rookery end floodlights off, yet that final ball constantly eluded us.

Typical of a night when nothing went right was the fact that two of the best chances fell to Clint Easton, a player with only one career goal. Actually, that's probably a little unfair on him since, despite an utterly nondescript performance, he did at least show some initiative in taking up forward positions. But the finishes were soft - a rising shot from a superb Bazeley pass that was easily fielded by Talia, a bundled header from Smart's cross.

In case we'd forgotten that this wasn't a procession to an equaliser, Swindon came very, very close to adding a second. Again it was Hay who burst away, darting in from the left and cracking a low shot that was only deflected away from the bottom corner by Chamberlain's fingertips. There would've been no way back from that.

As it was, there was no way back in any case - but we were able to enjoy the illusion for a while. Swindon's defending was hardly flawless, yet frustration only increased as we were unable to capitalise on the errors that did surface. Although aided by defenders and the woodwork, Talia made just one noteworthy save to block Daley's driven shot after Taylor's clumsiness presented the ball at the winger's feet inside the area.

Encouraged by another lengthy "Elton John's Taylor-made Army" session, the pressure did build. Five successive corners at one point - although we didn't do anything with them, natch. And that pressure finally told as Talia and two defenders somehow contrived to let Nick Wright emerge from their midst with the ball at his feet and an open goal to shoot at. The angle was tight, his left foot let him down, the ball rolled slowly towards the line, Borrows got back to hack it clear.

Bazeley - awful crossing, otherwise more assertive than of late - went close with one of the periodic cut-inside-and-try-a-curler efforts that have illuminated his game since that goal at Northampton. Smart - to my eyes, the only forward with a clue - turned on the edge of the area to shoot wildly, then drove across a criminally empty six yard box. (Needless to say, he was angrily jeered for both efforts - such is the life of a centre forward who can't score.)

And finally, with a minute to go, the moment that really emptied the stands. Daley found a way into the box at long last, Smart flicked on the cross, Wright hooked it goalwards, Talia watched...and it hit the post. Oh, bugger.

The point of defending players isn't to draw a veil over a plainly sub-standard performance. There is no endorsement implicit in this report. The point is that we can play so much better - those with memories longer than a goldfish's will know that. This was pitifully poor from a team that is not pitifully poor. Childishly writing the whole thing off as rubbish helps no-one, least of all the players who've got us into this position in the first place, and smacks of exactly the lack of ambition that has been so often used as a McCarthy-esque accusation.

Let's make it simple. Two points:
1. Graham Taylor is the greatest manager in the history of Watford Football Club.
2. It's time that we let him get on with his job.

Report by Baz Barry

In retrospect it was entirely predictable.

A very average Swindon content to pack players behind the ball at every opportunity, particularly after their goal, against a Watford that have too many players performing below par and lacking confidence. Add in some strange tactics and a pig of a wet evening, and this match was always going to be troublesome.

The first half was as soporific and forgettable as the rain. Against Sheffield United the only reason I could guess why Gifton played as a right winger was to occupy their wing-backs or stretch the back three. But the Swindon version are more back than wing and the centre halves were solid. For this game we had a lively but ultimately lightweight Tommy Smith, making his full debut, playing predominately on the right wing, where Tony Daley could (and should) be. If Smith is the natural goal scorer that he's acclaimed to be, then surely it would have been more worthwhile pitching him closer to the isolated Smart, who was outnumbered throughout?

I guess the theory is to get the ball wide and across, with the midfield ghosting in late creating mischief, but our lot seemed too preoccupied, too deep, too static. After Swindon's brightish start, Johno rarely ventured far from the fast Ndah, in the first half anyway. Wright was playing Toad "in the hole" which left Easton swamped against their busy middlemen. Kennedy was anonymous, even when he was pushed on, and in, to try and add numbers to the centre of the attack. Perhaps he was too busy trying to cover the mistakes Robbo was making because, although it grieves me to say it, I thought he had a 'mare of a first half. But he wasn't alone on that score.

So changes had to be made at half time and they were.

Hazan came on to play in front of the back four, supposedly releasing the other two in the middle. It worked almost immediately when Clint found himself nearly through on the keeper but his boots turned to lead and his finish likewise. Wright moved out to the left and Daley came on the right but seemed to spend most of the half on the inside with Baze hugging the touchline. I was surprised it took GT twenty-four minutes to work out that Swindon were going to defend for the entire half but eventually Mooney replaced Easton and Hazan moved on up. Another surprise was to see the Moonster take an inside left role when Smart was still in need of help. We were doubling-up out wide on both sides (as were they) and just seemed to have the lone man in the box. The possession was all Watford's. Hazan and Johno spent a happy twenty minutes patrolling outside their box, feeding both wings and the crosses were coming over but we lacked the killer punch. We didn't get the ball down in the six-yard box and didn't work their goalie. Small wonder he had only one real save to make. Swindon, on the other hand, had enough threat to force Alec into his customary wondersave, tipping a low strong shot around the post.

Ignoring my incomprehension of the shape and tactics involved, the fear is that four out of the five remaining home games could be much of the same. Bolton being the exception.

A greater fear is the reaction of the crowd. Having spent the earlier part of the season being bamboozled as to how to react to the rich offerings and lofty heights then occupied, we now have delusions of grandeur. The team is going through a rough patch and the reaction is frightening. We don't perform for two home games in a row and the crowd is moaning 'n' groaning with every sniff of a mistake. And here is where I can draw an everyday, and personal, parallel.

At Barry Acres we're still learning The Art Of Parenthood. Currently we have a very angry six year old (Harry Enfield's Kevin, but a decade early) vying for our attention against his bruiser of a two year old sister. The theory is not to correct every misdemeanour but spend time with them both, encouraging and praising everything positive. It's not easy because the natural reaction is to criticise but it seems to work, most of the time. Avoid saying "Don't do this", "Don't do that" but try and say "Well done". So instead of giving Robbo some verbal for cocking-up another pass or swearing at Easton for wasting his opening, we should be encouraging them to try again and praising them for being through in the first place.

And that can be applied to the team as a whole.

Keep at it boys. You're sixth on merit. Twelve more positive performances will make the play-offs.