05/06: Reports:: Friendlies:
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
Scorers: Bangura (60), Junior (68, 73)
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
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
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
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
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.