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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/09/03, 3.00pm
Wigan Athletic
What the King hell is going on?
By Doug Lawson

Watford's season so far has been a horror story:

After a night's sleep interrupted by bouts of Insomnia coupled with Nightmares and Dreamscapes concerning my role as both match reporter and also compiler of the Needful Things that are the player scores I awoke with a sense of Desperation.

After a late breakfast I left Todmorden for the short trip past the homes of such footballing giants as Burnley and Accrington Stanley (who are they?). Having spent most of the week in The Shining sun of Derbyshire, I was disappointed to be greeted by driving rain and wind - the Dark Half of the UK's weather.

When I arrived in Wigan I found the Latics' offering to be everything that Derby wasn't, from free parking and sensibly priced tickets to well-organised and priced food.

With such a short journey I was in the ground in time to watch the players warm up, but even this filled me with Misery as Danny Webber missed five out of seven "practice" shots on goal. Richard Lee, who sat near me, was obviously eager to join his teammates despite his injury and said he'd asked to play with one arm and wanted to be on the pitch with his mates. When Coxy appeared with the others to warm up he waved to Richard and mimed falling and injuring his arm. Richard waved back; with his middle finger.

I looked around before kickoff and noted that The Stand was half empty; it would appear that Wigan's fan base is even Thinner on the ground than Watford's and the fixture appeared to be as popular as a trip to the local Pet Semetary.

Anyway, the game started brightly despite the weather, with Lee Cook getting involved much sooner than he did mid-week; Robbo and him combining well down the left wing. Unfortunately as has often been the case there was no end product to this early activity and Wigan were the first to settle.

After Robbo's first decent cross lead to Watford's first corner, Wigan cleared and went all out to attack the Watford end, with Alec forced to make two fingertip saves inside the first few minutes.

Round the ten minute mark Watford were facing the second of two back to back corners when McCulloch, the Latic number ten, rose unmarked in the area and headed into the back of the net. One-nil to Wigan and Watford facing an uphill struggle against a side that were obviously buoyed by their league position.

Two minutes later the Latic number nine, Nathan "Duke" Ellington, fired a vicious shot from thirty or so yards out that had Chamberlain scrambling backwards to tip the ball over the bar. Fortunately the subsequent corner didn't match the quality of the shot that caused it.

For the next ten minutes Watford appeared to be wearing lead boots as Wigan continued to enjoy the best of the action, with the Hornets struggling to put any moves together. At this stage even The Dark Tower - Marcus Gayle - started to crumble as he carelessly cleared what appeared a simple ball into the Watford half, straight onto the forward running foot of the opposition's number nine. This time, the Duke's shot was kept out by luck and the crossbar as Chamberlain lay on his back beaten by the ferocity of the shot.

There followed a rare moment of inventiveness for the Hornets as Wigan were caught on the break. The move, culminating in a weaving run by Webber, resulted in a free kick for Watford on the edge of the area as two Latic defenders failed to deal with the Watford number nine's fancy footwork. The resultant free kick was the result of much debate in the Hornets' ranks as Cook, Mahon and Gayle discussed who would take it. Unfortunately once decided, Cook's free kick fell straight into the arms of the Latic keeper.

Two minutes later and Watford broke again as Jamie Hand placed a forty yard cross onto Devlin's boot on the edge of the Wigan goal area. The Scotsman's shot was weak and wide though.

The next few minutes were all Wigan as Watford showed just how badly they can defend if they really try. Gayle, Cox and Dyche made several botched attempts to clear the ball, but the danger did not let up for several minutes as Wigan piled on the pressure.

Eventually though the ball broke down the left and Lee Cook took it in field before playing a sublime through ball to Danny Webber who timed his run perfectly behind the Latic defenders, he fired a firm shot at the goal which the keeper could only parry for a corner. Devlin's corner however went straight to the keeper.

There followed a sustained attack on Watford's shaky defence as Wigan, fired by a narrowly missed throughball, went on the offensive once again. At one stage Webber, forced to defend along with the other forwards, attempted to see out a stray ball for a goal kick, but managed to lose the ball on the goal line. The subsequent cross ran dangerously unattended along the Hornet's goal line before being knocked out for a corner.

The corner was cleared and against the run of play Lee Cook again latched onto a stray ball and after running the length of the pitch played Webber in, whose pass to a blue shirt may have been meant for another Watford player.

More pressure from Wigan up to half time, including another dangerous ball across the face of the Watford goal, left the Hornets feeling battered as they went in at the interval.

Watford started the second half with renewed vigour (and probably Lewington's half-time speech ringing in their ears). Played in again by Cook, Webber, presented with what was probably Watford's best chance of the game, opted to play for a corner rather than shoot and the moment passed as the corner was, like so many others, easily gathered by the Wigan number one.

Five minutes in and Wigan looked to make it two-nil, but the unmarked header from a cross went wide of the Hornets' goal and the game continued. Wigan still dominated despite Watford's redoubled efforts to string together some decent plays.

Ten minutes into the second half and Lee Cook again went on a run down the wing and this time was too fast for his marker, Eaden, who caught him late and earned the only card of the game, a yellow. This time it was Devlin's turn to take the free kick from a dangerous area on the edge of the box, but again his shot was weak and straight at the keeper who was visibly relieved gathering what should have been a bigger challenge.

Wigan again broke from the free kick and looked set for an easy run as Watford were caught napping, but Kennedy managed to run himself and the ball out of play to the vocal amusement of the Hornets travelling support.

Round the hour mark the Latic number nine was again played in following a poor clearance by Dyche, this time his shot found "row z" as it rose from his boot. Another let-off for the Watford side who now looked to be riding their luck.

Two minutes later and this time it was Devlin's turn to go on a run, his cross into a busy Wigan box blocked by an obvious and seemingly deliberate hand ball by Kennedy who escaped unpunished. Devlin looked to both the ref and the linesman for a different call, but neither of The Regulators thought there had been an infraction. This injustice fired the Watford fans and their anger briefly inspired a Watford resurgence, culminating in Devlin attempting a shot, blocked by several pairs of legs.

Minutes later Devlin and Dyer linked up again and this time Dyer was The Running Man, but fired lamely into the keeper's arms.

Shortly, another unmarked header from a Wigan corner marred Watford's newfound form. This time however the shot went over the bar to the audible relief of players and fans alike.

Watford gathered themselves again though and Cox played in Webber with a long ball over the Wigan defence who were caught napping, but Webber's shot was weak and the keeper again gathered the ball easily.

Watford continued to dominate for several minutes, but without any penetration and on sixty-five or so minutes Lewington made a triple substitution; replacing Dyer, Hand and Cook with Fitzgerald, Fisken and the Talisman of Watford at the moment Ashley Young respectively.

A shaky few minutes followed with even Chamberlain appearing to lose concentration as he fumbled an easy collection and had to fall on the ball to avoid a catastrophe. There then followed some good play from Watford as new legs gave them impetus.

On seventy minutes Wigan substituted the ever present but rarely effective Horsfield for the dangerous looking number eight - Roberts. Pressure from Wigan lead by Roberts then earned a free kick. Fortunately Wigan appeared to be suffering Watford's lack of sting and Chamberlain easily gathered the weak attempt.

Another bout of Wigan pressure ensued and only Neil Cox's heroics saved more red faces for the Hornets as they failed to clear some easy balls. Chamberlain was forced to make more saves before Wigan made their second substitution on eighty minutes, replacing number seven, Andy Liddell with number twenty, Gary Teale.

Watford still could not get hold of the game and shortly after coming on, Teale side-stepped Gayle's rather half-hearted attempt to stop him and fired a good ball across the face of Alec's goal, fortunately for Watford there were no runners to put the ball in the net. Five minutes later Teale did it again and once more he was unchallenged and the cross went unconverted.

The remainder of the game saw Watford largely pinned in their own half as the Wigan onslaught continued and the final whistle was a welcome relief for a traveling band of Watford fans who must wonder what has happened to their team.

No referee to blame today, Watford will have to dig deeper if they hope to progress to the next round of the League Cup on Tuesday night.

It would be unfair, I think, to single out one individual to "Carrie the can" for Watford's defeat today. With such a Dream Catcher in goal for Wigan we could well have been there till Four Past Midnight and not seen a goal. Even Ashley Young, Watford's Bag of Bones goalscorer was ineffectual today. Perhaps working the Night Shift midweek has left the players tired and in need of a rest.

My advice to Ray - Cujo look at making some changes soon please?!

(With apologies to Stephen King, Richard Bachman and Peter Straub)