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Watford v Bristol City, 26/12/98
The hare and the tortoise
By Matt Rowson

Once upon a time Mr.Hare and Mr.Tortoise had a race. Mr.Hare set off at a lightning pace, and was soon a long way ahead. However, lulled into believing his lead to be unassailable, Mr.Hare curled up on the side of the road and had a kip. Meanwhile, Mr.Tortoise kept plodding along at his steady pace, and soon passed Mr.Hare still dozing at the side of the road.

At this point "the story" that kiddies are normally told deviates somewhat from the truth. In "the story", Mr.Tortoise's steady, measured endeavour wins the day. I'm sorry to shatter your illusions, kiddies, especially at Christmas, but that just ain't how it happened....

Mr.Tortoise took the lead, it's true, but Mr.Hare woke up long before the end of the race, and galloped past Mr.Tortoise again just before the finishing line. This was particularly disappointing for Mr.Tortoise, whose supporters, Mrs.Turtle and the Terrapin family, had prematurely made a banner heralding his famous victory.

However, both Mr.Hare and Mr.Tortoise went on to compete in a much tougher race. Mr.Tortoise decided to show the world that he was ready for this race by splashing out on some really fancy, expensive gear. However, when the race started Mr.Tortoise nonetheless found himself amongst the stragglers. The new trainers he'd bought himself from London didn't seem to do a lot except squeak, and they smelled awful.

Mr.Tortoise decided that something needed to be done, and sacked the coach who had done well in helping him come so close to winning the previous race. Being a bit of a fashion-victim, Mr.Tortoise decided to hire one of the new-fangled International Fitness Consultants that he'd been reading about in the papers. The International Fitness Consultant frantically set about Mr.Tortoise's training routine. He tried all sorts of things, and often had Mr.Tortoise wearing his training shorts on his head and his sweatband round his waist to see if that would improve things. It didn't.

Undeterred, the International Fitness Consultant tried out lots and lots of international gear, often borrowing stuff to try out before sending it back. He made a deal with a posh Italian firm from Milan, which seemed to involve Mr.Tortoise wearing bits of gear that the Italian firm didn't really want. He also bought a tracksuit from Hungary, but as it had to come from so far away he knew he would have to wait quite a while for it to arrive. Despite all this, Mr.Tortoise continued to look out of his depth in the new race, and was soon second from last despite other stragglers running backwards, and having to sell their trainers to pay for food.

Mr.Hare, meanwhile, had been fairing much better. Having started the race with fairly modest expectations, he found himself amongst the pacesetters, despite not having shelled out much on new gear. At times, he absolutely blistered past his rivals, and decided that he hadn't run as well for at least ten years. Once, as he lapped Mr.Tortoise, his old foe sneered "Ha, you won't be leading the race at Christmas", but Mr.Hare was beginning to realise that if he continued to concentrate on his running instead of on looking good (and didn't take any more untimely naps), he was quite capable of finishing in the medals.

Contrary to Mr.Tortoise's assertion, as Christmas approached and Mr.Hare prepared to lap Mr.Tortoise once again, he was still well placed at the front of the race....

Zzzzzzz..... where am I ? Euuurrrrrghhhh, Christmas Party. Drinking in the afternoon is always a bad idea. Where did all this crap come from ? I'm supposed to be writing a preview of the City match, what's this nonsense got to do with anything ? Oh lord, better leave it in there now, haven't got time to write much else. Aaaaarghhh, my HEAD.....

Bristol City, tragically, haven't had much of a time since our visit to Ashton Gate earlier in the season. John Ward's disappointing record has been almost exactly matched by new incumbent Benny Lennartson, with defensive frailty the evident weakness of the side. To date they have conceded more than any other team in the Nationwide League... only one goal fewer than Sunderland had scored.

All sorts of options had been explored... City have approached centre-halves from Italy, Belgium, and Moldova as well as former star Keith Curle, Lincoln's Kevin Austin, and Chelsea's David Lee (who was sent home on the day he arrived... "so that's a no, then ?"). Finally, City have signed Forest defender Christian Edwards on loan, and Hungarian international Vilmos Sebok from Ujpest Dozsa, who's now waiting for a work permit. I have a feeling that my Ferencvaros T-shirt may get a rare outing on Boxing Day....

Akinbiyi, however, continues to knock them in fairly regularly, and is still partnered by default by Soren Andersen, with Watford's Mr.Popular Tony Thorpe tending to play a midfield role.

Watford's last exciting Boxing Day game was in 1937, but hopefully the renewing of a recent rivalry will add some venom this time round. City have lost their last six away from Ashton Gate, and won only once away from home this season; a 1-0 win at Bury in October. If the Hornets can complete their first double of the season, we're going to have a very Merry Christmas indeed....