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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 17/01/04, 3.00pm
Crystal Palace
What a farce
By Chris Lawton

As I put it to my dad on the way back from the ground: a team of Keith Dublins could not have done any worse.

We lost this match for two simple reasons: we made five basic defensive errors and were punished for each one, and we had five clear chances to score and only took one of them. Some out there will bemoan Lewington and his tactics, but from what I could see the sole reason we lost was because the players on the pitch made mistakes, hideous, horrible mistakes.

We started brightly enough with plenty of forward endeavour and enterprise. Mahon looked comfortable in his new role and seemed to understand that the best way to play on the Vicarage Road mud was to get the ball wide. That we made several chances before the first Palace goal lulled us into a false sense of security. The defence had pushed up too much and were caught flat footed in a fast counter-attacking move. One down, but we still played with conviction and continued to make chances.

Then it all came undone. In the space of a few minutes the game swung away from Watford. Palace's second came after a howler by Jack Smith. Somehow he tried to do a flying drop kick to clear the ball, missed and let in the Palace forward for the second. From the restart, Watford won a free kick. As Palace pushed up, five (yes, five) Watford players were left on the six yard line, unmarked. With only the keeper to beat, Mahon somehow managed to miss the target. Had that gone in, a comeback would have been possible.

Minutes later, the game was over. Gayle (who is starting to show a serious lack of pace) tried to clear the ball, only to see it charged down. As the forward ran on, Cox came across and took the player out from behind. Red card and penalty. Game over. There is some debate as to whether the foul took place inside the box. In my opinion, defenders get sent off all too readily. If you concede the penalty, the odds are the opposition will score and you will be a player down. Why not try and put the forward off? Apply pressure, but don't foul. To me, at 2-0 down at home, it was not the right call from Cox.

Second half and an early exit from the dressing room. Lewington spent several minutes on the pitch talking to the players. He changed the team and the formation and it worked. We controlled the second half for thirty minutes until tired minds and bodies couldn't muster one last effort. In the opening of the half we made progress and won a dubious penalty. Heidar's cool conversion gave hope to the crowd. But as in the first half chances came and went and as the scoreline remianed at 3-1 hope started to ebb from the players.

The futility of the cause was summed up fifteen minutes from time when another wayward pass found a Palace player who beat Doyley three times before firing the ball past Lenny. The last goal summed everything up. The ball was played over the top and Lenny came out, gambled that the player would chip him only to look somewhat silly when the ball was knocked under his feet and into the empty net.

So, what can be said?

1) Removing Ray is not the answer. I think the players are behind Ray and will work with him on financial matters. Bring in a new manager and all that trust will be lost. Ray might be able to persuade out of contract players to stay at reduced costs, a new manager won't.

2) We miss Robbo and we miss Nielsen. No money for replacements = problems.

3) The pitch. The club failed to invest in the pitch over the summer. We suffer because of that. If there is any spare money from the Chelsea cup ties it should be invested in the pitch now. It is a joke of a playing surface.

4) Bring back Chamberlain. Not because Lenny is playing poorly, but because I think Chamberlain communicates more effectively with the defence. He maybe a more calming influence at the back.

5) I am not going to watch the Horns again for a long time. I have not seen a win in the league since we won 1-0 at Pompey in one of Vialli's last matches in charge.

6) To save the club money, put the players on performance-related pay. Hook every seat up with "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"-style consoles and give players real-time ratings. Come the end of the match, the rating they get reflects the amount of pay they receive. Saturday would have saved the club enough money to refund all the fans for admission and my air tickets to get to England....