"Watford are rubbish"
By Mike Smart
Man, did I pick a good game for my first ever BSaD report!
I like going to Leicester. I...what? Eh? No, I said, "I like going to Leicester", not "I like Leicester".
Hell, no. I emphatically dislike Leicester, for a number of reasons. You have Gary "too good to be substituted" Lineker, for instance, who used our Premier League season to make his point. Yes, Gary, we've got the idea. You were on the verge of scoring the two goals needed to get England into the next round. But boy, were you disguising it well! Then there is their choice of personnel, both past and present. I see Leicester as a sort of halfway house between civilised society and Millwall; expect the Foxes to be in the running should Lee Hughes be released from prison in time to resume his career, before he takes on a player-coach role at the Den. The fact that they escaped from all their debts while gaining promotion to the Premier League still rankles, and relegation has gone some way to providing justice, but the debts remain (and will remain) unpaid, and the parachute payments prevail. And then we have their charming fans. So outraged when Wolves poached Mark McGhee from them to join Wolves, conveniently forgetting that they had done exactly the same to Reading to get the man in the first place. And would proceed to do the same to Norwich over Martin O'Neill. More on these intelligent specimens later.
But I do like going to Leicester. For a start, it's a shortish journey from my Birmingham home and, in common with Bradford, a reminder that I don't quite live in the worst city in the world. I've had some great afternoons watching Watford at Leicester: the 4-4 and the 2-1 win, where, incredibly, both Nogan and Butler scored in the same match. No, really. What really sticks in the mind, though, about the latter match is an encounter my Dad and I had with some young Leicester fans that day, on the way to the match, when they shouted across the road, in a fairly harmless fashion: "Leicester gunna win! Bet you Leicester win ten-nil!" Tee-hee.
And I liked Filbert Street. No, hear me out - it was a real football stadium. It told a story. I haven't researched the topic, but I'm guessing the story contains details of times when they were rich, and could build a splendid stand; of battles with neighbours and the local council, in a desperate bid to enlarge the smaller two sides of the ground; of a large, two-tier home end - a little tatty, but the scene of so many happy memories for so many people. And some not so happy, of course.
Before we arrived at the ground, we had a battle to find a parking space. Is there really any excuse for that at a new stadium? On the walk to the ground, we overtook some young Leicester fans with their parents.
"Watford are rubbish", came the pre-pubescent chorus. "Watford are rubbish." A big smile hit my face. Maybe this was going to be a good day.
This was my first visit to the Walkers Stadium. Or so I thought - it turns out I went there last season, when it was living in Reading and going by the name "Madejski Stadium". To be fair to the Walkers Stadium, though, it has a montage of action pictures from the Foxes' history attached to the roof, all round the stadium. Perhaps Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen would describe it as "ghastly", but to me, it did at least mean that this was unmistakably the home of Leicester City, and I thought it was a nice touch. Even if it did mean Lineker beaming down at me throughout the game.
As if to make us feel at home, there was a familiar announcement half an hour before the game. Apparently, there has been some unhappiness about the pre-match build up, so the tannoy bloke declared that they had listened to the fans and had come up with a new playlist. Then, perhaps remembering the uninspiring collection that was to follow, he added the disclaimer: "But it's hard to keep thirty thousand people happy." Er...try twenty-two thousand, pal.
Anyway, for those that weren't at the game, imagine now, if you will, the three or four most played songs at football grounds. Got them in mind? Okay, see how many of them come up here.
To begin with, we were treated to some quite awful trumpeting, the snag being that I don't think the performer had ever played a trumpet before. And it was so dreadfully loud. And so dreadful. This was followed by "Keep the Faith" (Bon Jovi), which seems to have become something of a motto among Foxes fans. This, incidentally, was interrupted a couple times, one of which was for a presentation for I'm-not-sure-what involving Steve Sims. Steve got the ovation you'd expect from both sets of fans, but he definitely waved more enthusiastically at us!
We then had some strange crooning that initially sounded like a Christmas Carol, before moving into Cliché City with "Let Me Entertain You", "We Will Rock You" and the Old Spice music. More trumpeting - slightly improved this time, but still far too loud - and then back to "We Will Rock You". You see, some things that Watford do could be worse. A lot worse.
So, the footy then. Watford attacked the away end in the first half. Well, the away pokey corner, to be precise. Helguson replaced the unfortunate Dyer, who was relegated to the bench; one suspects that only an injury or loss of form from H will prevent Bruce spending quite a lot of time bench-warming this season. Within two minutes, Richard Lee had saved well to deny Williams in a scramble in front of the Watford goal, and the first cries of "Short Greedy Bastard" had gone up. Yes, our friend with nothing to prove in the Third Division has pledged his unique brand of loyalty to the Foxes. For now. (Presumably, he also feels he has nothing to prove in the Premier League, since he's never actually played there.) Normally, I cringe when we taunt the opposition strikers, preferring to wait until we are four goals up with five minutes to go before we start. The aforementioned Hughes is a prime example. But in Connolly's case, it would be rude not to give him the welcome he so richly deserves.
Soon after Lee's save, Webber ran at Keown in an attempt to get past the ageing warrior. Keown won that time, but there was more to come in this battle. Back at the Watford end, Canero sent in a difficult cross, which Cox did well to slide out for a corner, with Connolly lurking.
We were passing well, and a minute later, Webber ran onto a through ball, but Walker came out quickly to hoof the ball into row Z. When the ball came back in, Helguson rose with Walker, who dropped the ball, but was able to gather it on the ground, with Watford predators lurking. Helguson, though, was not penalised for the challenge - perhaps serving as a reminder that we were quite fortunate with the decision against QPR.
On six minutes, a routine clearance from Richard Lee, not for the last time this afternoon, ended up in the crowd. While comparisons with Kevin Miller in this regard might be unfair, this is definitely Lee's Achilles heel, and there is work to be done.
Shortly after that, we earned a free kick just outside the Leicester box, when the clumsy Keown climbed on Helguson. Devlin's shot was blocked, but the signs were encouraging. This was good stuff!
On ten minutes, a long punt forward by Leicester found Connolly in the Watford penalty area. The little git controlled well, but Chambers diffused the situation with a timely challenge. This was a good display by the on-loan Baggie; not so much the clever flicks and chips past the opposition full-back that we saw against QPR, although that's not to say he didn't get forward, but a really assured defensive display. Darlington and Doyley or not, it would be good to extend his stay at Vicarage Road.
A ball up to Danny Webber failed to find its target, but Danny demonstrated his willingness to fight for every scrap by chasing down three defenders as an uneasy Leicester defence attempted to find some space, eventually putting the ball out for a throw. Webber was up for this, make no mistake. But you'd expect nothing else.
And so too was a much-improved Devlin. A Cox free-kick found him on the right, where he skilfully held off and turned Tiatto. The cross found Helguson, whose contact was weak, and Ardley was beaten to the scraps.
Being a BSaD report virgin, I had decided to make notes on the key events. It occurred to me at this point that I seemed to have written quite a lot already. Perhaps it was due in part to my inexperience in picking out the key events for such a purpose, but moreover, it had just been such a lively start, and there was always something happening.
At this point, the Leicester fans, perhaps the effects of the sun proving too much, came up with a couple of songs. Firstly, and I think this was what they were saying, we had "Will you ever see them score?" Following this, we were treated to "S**t team, no fans". Hmm. Okay.
Back on the pitch, and Danny Tiatto was having real problems with Devlin, who was twisting and turning and taking on his man. Good stuff. On eighteen minutes, Dev forced a corner from Tiatto, but this was one of many that were dealt with all too easily. A bit of variety needed from our set pieces, perhaps - when you've got H, Cox and Dyche to attack the ball, we really ought to be working the goalkeeper more often than we did today.
Brynyar Gunnarsson was throwing his weight around, bringing down a couple of Leicester players in quick succession, one of whom rolled over theatrically. Credit must go to Mr. Marriner for keeping his cards in his pocket. Helguson was also having an interesting time; of course, no shortage of running and willingness, and he was seeing plenty of the ball. But he seemed unable to play even the simplest of passes, and was guilty of making the wrong choices on a number of occasions. Once, when a run and shot beckoned, he opted to play Devlin in instead. Not in itself a bad option, as Devlin certainly had space - and form - but H tamely found a Leicester player instead, and the moment was lost.
Halfway through the first half, Danny Webber found himself racing clear, having cleverly turned Martin Keown, of whom you have to wonder why he is still playing; perhaps the lucrative modelling career he was planning to take up has fallen through for some reason. Whatever, once Webber got away from Keown, it was clear that someone else would need to step in for Leicester, and as Dabizas moved across, Webber opted to shoot, bringing a smart but fairly routine save from Walker at his near post.
From the resulting corner, Dyche rose with Walker and headed the ball into the goal, but was penalised for a foul on the goalkeeper. Which it might have been. But perhaps we can consider our luck evened out now.
It was end-to-end, but the meaningful action came mostly in front of Ian Walker's goal, until on twenty-five minutes Connolly got himself into a good position and shot narrowly wide. Shouts of "good save" were corrected by the referee, who indicated a goal kick. Minutes later, the Leicester fans became very excited about a penalty they thought they should have. None of the players seemed to agree though, and crucially, neither did the referee. But the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the hosts.
A bobbling ball in the Watford penalty area broke to Joey Gudjonsson, who, presumably spotting a Leicester Tigers scout in the crowd, fired a beautifully straight shot into row Z. He was soon to have better efforts. Then, after a Neal Ardley free-kick that came to nothing, and a Richard Lee free-kick that came to a bewildered bloke halfway up the Alliance & Leicester Stand, Leicester forced a corner. Richard Lee half-cleared the cross, but it came to Gudjonsson. The Icelander hit a fierce shot which was blocked, and came out again. A second shot was well saved, and the ball was scrambled away for a corner, which was easily cleared.
Approaching half-time, Helguson seemed to be held back in the sort of incident that is usually penalised outside the area, but seldom inside. Unfortunately for H, it was inside, and the ref followed the code.
"Only come to watch Leicester", chirruped our friends to the left. Yes, chaps, cos you've been splendid so far.
If there was any justice, the next incident of note would see Heidar finding a place on the New Year's Honours List, but in this twisted world, his foul on Connolly earned him only a booking. Disappointingly, the Irish (yeah, right) sod got up and continued playing.
Some calm defending from Dyche and Mahon prevented Connolly breaking clear, before Helguson controlled the ball superbly and then made a mess of the through ball to Webber. Just before the break, Helguson and Devlin almost managed to work an opening on the right, but sort of got in each other's way, and Devlin tamely side-footed the ball to Walker.
0-0 at half-time. Lots of incident, and I think we shaded it, but it was not difficult to imagine us failing to score in the second half as well. I was disappointed that the BSaD tradition of Lucky Half-Time Chocolate seems to have stopped, as I'm on a diet, and it's been a while. So I contented myself with a lucky half-time wee instead. For what it's worth, I would have chosen a Wispa, because its subtlety reflected what was required from the Golden Boys to win this game. Plus it's my favourite.
The players emerged for the second half to the sound of a trumpet, only this time, it was really being played quite well. So much so that the Leicester officials afforded it a percussion accompaniment this time. Still too loud, though.
A minute later, Ardley had stung the palms of Walker. Not the start to the second half many expected, or the Leicester fans, who had booed their team off at half time (the new Wolves, perhaps?), demanded. But after another minute, Connolly had turned and shot. His effort was high and wide on this occasion, but was this the start of the Leicester onslaught?
Er, well, no actually. The next action saw Ardley clip an intelligent ball down the left for Webber to chase, Danny's shot finding the grateful arms of Walker. More Watford pressure, and after Devlin was brought down, the free kick caused confusion in the penalty area and a relieved punt out for a corner. Devlin and Ardley found themselves switching wings for a few minutes, during which another clever ball down the left, this time from Devlin, again found Webber. Webber's run into the box was halted by a last-ditch tackle, resulting in another corner.
At the other end, Richard Lee came out bravely to deny Scowcroft, but there was no great threat, until, in the fifty-fourth minute, a quick break led to a nervy clearance and a Leicester corner. The corner came straight to Richard Lee, who claimed it without difficulty, but the reminder was there that Leicester were still in it.
Very much in it, and a very different proposition when Benjamin entered the fray in place of the creaking Keown. Not before we had one of our best chances, mind, a bouncing Helguson cross headed over by Devlin. To say he should have scored might be a bit harsh - it was a very awkward ball in. Perhaps if it had been a cross from, say, Devlin in to, say, Helguson, we might have been celebrating a deserved opener.
It didn't take long for Benjamin to make an impression, though. A free-kick was flicked on by the big man, and, although this was dealt with comfortably, we were now faced with the sort of aerial threat we had thus far not faced.
A low, probably scuffed cross from Helguson was cleverly dummied by Ardley, and Webber had one of a number of chances, his weak shot comfortably saved. He should have scored.
How long could we continue to spurn opportunities before we would be punished at the other end? Speaking of the other end, Richard Lee once again raced out of his goal, this time to deny Connolly a shooting chance. What Lee lacks in kicking, he makes up for in decision-making, on the evidence of this performance.
A quick break for Watford, and Webber is denied again, hitting a weak shot when well placed, before a double substitution from Leicester. And there you have it, before an hour had been played, Leicester had made their three substitutions, and not because of injuries. That in itself is a testament to the superb job that our team had done. We had forced Leicester to change their plans. Not by stifling them, getting ten men behind the ball (à la Burnley - not that there's anything wrong with that), but by out-attacking them, and being solid at the back. It was Stewart for Wilcox and Gemmill for Gudjonsson. Youth policy looking good at Leicester, then. Actually, I was surprised - and not displeased - to see the back of Gudjonsson. He won't be on many opposition fans' Christmas card lists, but he's the sort of player that it's better to have with you than against you. Tough-tackling, all-action and with a fearsome (if not always terribly accurate) shot. The Anti-Ramage, if you will.
Gemmill was soon in action, sending in a cross which was held by Lee. Just to endear himself to the gathered Hornets even further, that little runt (decide for yourself whether I'm using rhyming slang) Connolly charged down Richard Lee's clearance. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and a foul was given.
Micky Adams soon regretted using all his substitutes, as Scowcroft picked up an injury. After lengthy treatment, he limped back onto the field, but he was not moving well - barely at all, in fact - and I figured we were effectively playing against ten men. I didn't write that down though, just in case he headed a last minute winner, or something.
A minute later, and more screams of penalty from the home fans. Benjamin looked half-interested, but no-one else did, least of all the referee.
Leicester were coming into it, looking the more likely side all of a sudden. Chambers brought down Stewart, and the free-kick - itself poor - was disappointingly dispatched by Gunnarsson for a Leicester corner. Lee came through a crowd to punch the ball, but it came back in for Connolly to fire against the outside of the post. A let off. Moments later, Dabizas had the ball on the Leicester right. He had the beating of Gunnarsson, who brought him down and should, really, have been booked. Good job he did bring him down though, as Dabizas was in space. Quite what the Greek centre-back was doing there in the first place will probably remain a mystery. The free-kick came to nothing. Another Leicester free-kick, this time on the left, was cleared by Neal Ardley. Still thirteen minutes to go, and Watford were very much second best at this stage.
Ray decided to act, but instead of maybe bringing on Darlington to steady the ship, he went for a bold, attacking change: Young for Gunnarsson. Clearly, Ray still felt that a win was there for the taking. And why not, with Leicester increasingly committing men forwards? Young's first contribution was to get himself booked for a high challenge on Gemmill, some forty-five seconds after coming on. The resulting free-kick was cleared.
A few minutes later, and another cross from the right for Leicester. A poor header by Helguson gave Connolly the best chance he'd had so far, but the Humble One smacked the outside of the other post. Pity.
Ten minutes to go, and Leicester gave the ball away, allowing Watford to work a chance for Ashley Young, who shot over from the edge of the area. But this was brief respite, as Leicester came forward again. Canero crossed, but Cox was on hand to read the dummy and clear. A free kick, half cleared and returned in to Connolly, who missed the ball. The crowd claimed a penalty, as did Connolly, but the referee rose above it.
A word for the referee here. It was not the toughest game to officiate, but some refs might have been a lot more fussy and had the card out more often. An early candidate for "Least Bad Ref" in the Clap awards. Except that everyone will have forgotten by then. His only real mistake, as far as I could see, was not booking Gunnarsson for the foul on Dabizas. And we won't complain about that. So well done, Mr. Marriner.
The desperate defending continued. Tiatto cut in and shot, Lee turned it around the post and the corner was cleared. Back in the ball came, and Cox cleared.
Helguson, becoming something of a liability in defensive situations, fouled on the edge of the area. It might not surprise you to learn that Connolly nominated himself as the man for the job, and he fired the free kick over the bar. Arrogant sod.
Ninetieth minute, and Dyer came on for Helguson. Not H's best display, but he was as hard-working as you'd expect, and was involved in some good Watford moves. It'd be nice to see him score sooner rather than later, though.
Danny Webber was not finished yet. He nearly benefited from a slip by a defender, but somehow the stricken player scrambled the ball away. It bodes well, though, that in the ninetieth minute, Webber is still chasing and giving defenders a hard time.
There is no doubt that the announcement of four minutes of stoppage time was greeted more enthusiastically by the home fans than the visitors, but as an attacking force, Leicester were spent. From an Ashley Young corner in the ninety-third minute, Dyche flicked on, but there was nobody there to meet the ball, and that, it appeared, was that.
I weighed up who should be given Man of the Match. A tough call in such a good team display, but I narrowed it down to Dyche, Devlin and Webber. Soon, the choice was made for me.
One last goal kick from Lee. No doubt the ref would blow for full time as soon as it left Lee's boot, but no, not time yet. This time, Richard Lee's kick did not end up in the stand, but on the head of Bruce Dyer, leaping higher than the tired Leicester defenders. Webber anticipated well, and raced onto the ball. Insofar as you could tell from the away end, which, basically, you couldn't, Danny Webber was away. A splendid piece of twisting and turning took out both Heath and Walker, leaving half the goal gaping. And he found it.
I mean, this was just perfect. You go to a place like that, play well and seem to have a very well-earned point, and then that happens. It is moments like this that stay in the memory for a long, long time. Like Wayne Andrews' winner at Notts County, or Tommy Mooney's against Bristol Rovers. Dominic Foley at home to Barnsley. Just wonderful.
On the final whistle - which was almost immediate - I glanced up at Gary Lineker. I'm sure he wasn't smiling quite so much.
On the way back to the car, we hoped to encounter those young fans again, but we didn't. It doesn't matter though, the point was made very adequately by the team. It was put in terms that even a young fan can understand, even if he might be rather more concerned by his own team's shortcomings.