05/06: Reports:Friendlies:

Pre-Season Friendly, 12/07/04
Redditch United 0(0)
Watford 3(0)
First Half Team: Chamberlain, Chambers, Doyley, DeMerit, Osbourne, Devlin, Hand, Mahon, Stewart, Young, Junior
Second Half Team: Lee, Gilligan, Homand, Blizzard, Mariappa, Devaney, Diagouraga, Bangura, McNamee, Bouazza, Junior
Other Subs: Grant (for Devaney), Gill (for Diagouraga)
Scorers: Bangura (60), Junior (68, 73)

Watford Town
By Matt Rowson

It's not even mid-July for goodness' sake. And yet for all sorts of reasons the summer seems to have lasted forever I'm probably not the only one thinking that.

Curiosity has got me to Redditch - that and being halfway there due to work anyway. Paul hasn't made it... the closure of Luton train station has prevented him from making our rendez-vous at Bedford but I'm not through the turnstile before I spot a familiar face. You kind of suspect that if Watford arranged a match on the moon against a team of earthworms (moonworms?) with five minutes notice Don Fraser would appear on the touchline in his wheelchair; Redditch is no great challenge.

There's a very affable feel about Redditch's ground, garnished with a few stands and terraces and a very respectable clubhouse. It does take the burger counter a while to open, but the fare is very agreeable and Don has elegantly manoeuvred himself to the front of the queue.

We're then offered plum seats at the edge of the pitch on the touchline in between the two benches from where we watch the world go by. A considerable number of local members of staff are milling around, and can't be too helpful; one retrieves me a chair from a back office, another disappears in search of a teamsheet for Don. In the meantime another chap ambles up and passes the time of day - he turns out to be Redditch boss Rod Brown, who has a teamsheet for us and points out several members of the Redditch playing staff with professional experience... not least John "the flying postman" Williams, who spends the first half not really moving an awful lot.

There is a bafflingly large entourage with the Watford crew as well, rather calling into question the concept of the crack three-man coaching team that's been sold to us. One chap with "BB" on his shorts does look like former Palace and Millwall midfielder Bobby Bowry, but there are several faces that even Don can't identify.

We've been sitting chatting in the sun with each other and the various passers by for a good half hour when, as an afterthought, two teams appear. Our teamsheet is helpful in identifying faces on both sides, although our number ten is clearly not Ashley Young but Paul Devlin, chatting to ex-Notts Co teammate Williams on the halfway line. (I'm briefly pleased with myself for retrieving this piece of information - Rupe later trumps me by mentioning that Williams scored the first ever televised Monday night goal, for Coventry against Norwich. He couldn't remember the date though...).

The game starts much more brightly than a game in hot sun in early July really ought to. Junior, on trial and the only "proper" striker in our starting line-up is obviously a source of interest - Paul will be disappointed, we'd spent a reserve game against Derby early last season counting the number of times the Brazilian voluntarily touched the ball with his right foot. Pretty much never as it turned out, and he displays a similar insistence on using his left here... not always to great effect, since whilst Watford have more of the ball in the first half there's an obvious lack of ideas and focal point once we reach the edge of the area. Junior shows for the ball but, perhaps understandably, doesn't want to get hurt whilst Ashley Young's brittleness again suggests that he's not destined for an attacking role in the long term.

It's evident from our position in earshot that the Redditch bench feels that their charges need plenty of reassurance but actually they're doing OK. Watford's centreback pairing of Doyley and DeMerit, the latter with longer, bleached hair than last season, work hard but you kinda feel that each would benefit from being alongside a shoutier centre half... although Doyley isn't short of a word or two of encouragement for the bright but excitable Junior Osbourne at left back. Anyway, Redditch achieve more with their more limited possession in the first half than we do with ours, even if Alec is rarely genuinely troubled by a number of long range efforts.

Jordan Stewart and Paul Devlin swap wings regularly; Stewart is taking a lot of dead balls, to quite acceptable standard, so it's difficult to judge whether this is deliberate policy or just a stopgap until positions can be swapped back. Devlin looks livelier than he has done for about five years, and is one of several on both sides interpreting the word "friendly" rather loosely.

Jamie Hand is back in midfield after a year's sabbatical. Typically, most of his involvement results in possession switching one way or another. He gives the ball away catastrophically on the edge of the box, teeing up an opponent who lobs the ball gently over the bar as if being controlled by a Playstation novice hitting the wrong button.

Hand comes close to redeeming himself as our quest for an attempt on target resorts to attrition, Hand bundling his way through on the left of the box before dragging a shot wide that's deflected for a corner. DeMerit is injured as the cross is dealt with, and Redditch exploit the gap he leaves at the back while receiving treatment... their number ten forcing Alec into a low save.

We finally get an attempt on target when another good Stewart delivery finds Ashley Young at the far post, but his header is straight down the goalkeeper's throat. The half ends on an unpleasant note, and we've an unwanted pitch-level view of a Redditch defender's stud catching in the turf and his leg bending in a direction that you really feel it didn't want to. Alarm is immediate, his teammates imploring someone unseen in the stand to call an ambulance. The half ends prematurely, a paramedic arrives first and then an ambulance, the time taken to move him aboard indicating a serious injury that Redditch's site reveals to be a broken fibula and dislocated ankle. The interval lasts a good half hour, and the mood is no longer cheerful.

On the pitch, the second half is a different matter entirely... not just because we've made ten changes at the interval. Indeed we spend at least the first fifteen minutes trying to name our back four - the only one we were confident about turns out not to have been Junior Osbourne after all, but Adrian Mariappa. The colossus at centre back with the armband turns out to be Dom Blizzard, who has at least doubled in bulk over the last couple of months and won't be knocked off the ball too easily. Similar developments are noted in Hameur Bouazza's physique - "meaty snails", according to Don - who looks much more bullish and prompts several double takes ("It's not King, is it?").

Redditch, though, don't cope anything like as well in the second half, either because the gap between their first team and reserves is greater than ours, or because of their level of fitness, concern for their colleague or a combination of the above. McNamee has instant joy on the left, Devaney is less sparkly but tidy and positive on the right (although the quality of his crosses is variable) and both Diagouraga and Bangura catch the eye in the centre.

When the goal comes it's excellent. Diagouraga, so languid that he's almost liquid, dances on the ball and feeds Junior. His dummy - if you're going to have one foot, make it a good one - fools his defender completely; he finds Bouazza, who knocks it back to Bangura, who slams it into the top corner and celebrates with a ridiculous dance. A good effort, although a Redditch challenge at any point might have made things a bit trickier.

McNamee continues to fly at his fullback, and gets hacked down in irritation ("Great challenge son" bellows the bloke in the stand behind us). Junior steps up and hits a left foot (natch) free kick past the wall and the keeper. Impossible to judge how from our angle, a view from behind the goal confirms that the ball moved in several different directions at once. Redditch are beaten, and five minutes later as I'm scribbling this observation into my notepad it's three - the Redditch keeper does well to block Bouazza's shot to his left (Don explains) but Junior is on the rebound and finishes - having adjusted onto his left foot, obviously.

There's a frenzy of activity on the touchline which obstructs our view for a period during which a thump and an aaah suggest that Redditch came close to scoring. Joel Grant and Ben Gill are brought on (is twenty three players in one game a record?) and Grant is soon kicked up in the air. "This is a friendly, isn't it?" smiles Keith Burkinshaw at the twelve year old fourth official with an "I'm Keith Burkinshaw, you know" air that irritates me more than it appears to irritate its recipient.

This doesn't feel like Watford. On the pitch we do well enough in the second half but the reduced fight offered by Redditch doesn't allow much scope for interpretation and extrapolation. Off the pitch, it's good to see Don of course and various other familiar faces milling around but there's not a lot else to latch onto.

As the game closes, Jimmy Davis' family and friends congregate around a presentation table. The Brummie wearing a Watford shirt who said hello on the way in turns out to be Jimmy's mate, the guy responsible for arranging this tribute match. Cyrille Regis has showed up too - he always looked as big as a house on the telly, but is much slighter and shorter than he is in my mind's eye. He awards a grinning Junior the man of the match award, and then steps aside for Danny Webber to present medals and the trophy to his erstwhile teammates.

The compering in front of an emptying stadium is the Redditch chairman, who persists in describing the visitors as "Watford Town Football Club". Steve has appeared, and wryly asks whether the name change is Betty's latest tactical innovation, but the irony of the error isn't lost. A club is defined by its "community" - its support and location, essentially, but whilst these haven't changed pretty much everything else has in the last few months. A three nil win hasn't, as it turns out, made everything else any easier to love.