By Adrian Barrett
What is it with referees and linesmen? I refuse to call linesmen anything other than what they are. Trumping up their role to "referee's assistant" just gives them ideas above their station and they then get precious when talented top scorers give them a bit of verbal for a blatant and cast iron penalty shout that should have been given...well, that's what Marlon thought at Wolves on Friday and he only gave his side of the argument. "Sir, he just swore at me," said our friendly lino, like some sniveling, creeping prefect at school who knows he has a little bit of power. Marlon got a red card and a two game rest (which isn't a bad thing, really) and we get a very funny, crude song aimed at today's linesman.
Today, it was the referee who got up my nose. It was a typical end of season game with no real relevance to the promotion or relegation issues. It could be argued that home advantage for the second leg of the play-off semi final is vaguely relevant and we needed to come out of our poor recent run before the trials and tribulations of the coming weeks, but had we lost it would not have made that much difference to Watford's or Ipswich's season.
One of the beauties of football is that every game is an entity its own right. Provided the players want to, each fixture can be absorbing, rewarding and entertaining regardless of league positions. I remember Nigel Gibbs once scored from about thirty yards out (really) against Bristol City in a silly season 5-2 win. The pressure was off, the sun was shining and it was fun. But the officials also have a duty to provide entertainment.
Today's game was between two forward-thinking teams: in Forster, Bowditch and Lee, Ipswich looked a threat every time they attacked, rare on this occasion. There was some rubbish played, it is true. Ipswich seemed to enjoy passing to a couple of people in the stands with a frequency which resembled stalking, Watford had spells where they resorted to hoofing long hopeful not-really-got-an-idea-what-to-do balls, but overall it could have been so much better as a spectacle if the referee hadn't insisted on blowing that flipping whistle. Did he get a new one in a chocolate egg on Sunday?
Why do some referees insist on ensuring that you know they are there? For the best part of twenty minutes, Mr C Webster blew that sticky whistle of his virtually every time a challenge was made, no thought for anyone else in the ground other than him and his assessor sitting in the stands. I am sure the assessors mark for allowing the game to flow. I do hope Mr Webster was marked down on that bit.
The game did see Watford return to some form. As early as the sixth minute, we had a mad couple of moments. Ashley Young, who had his most influential game for a while, headed a McNamee corner against the left hand side of the crossbar from the edge of the area, Carlisle's shot was blocked as was Mackay's follow up. Watford had started the brighter by far of the two sides but Ipswich always seem to have something about them which means you can never relax.
Bowditch had the visitors' first real effort, although he shot wide, but in the twentieth minute, Alan Lee tested Ben Foster and the keeper palmed the shot away for a corner. McNamee shot wide of the left hand post after being put in by Young and Henderson went close with an acrobatic overhead kick from McNamee's cross. Forster should have done better and given Ipswich the lead but Ben Foster smothered his close range effort.
The most pleasing aspect of the first half was watching Henderson lead the line with such effect. He obviously missed King's presence when a number of his knock downs went into no-man's land or even into touch through no fault of his own. Had Young, Eagles or McNamee been on his wavelength, Watford could have scored earlier.
Henderson did open the scoring himself just after half an hour. Bangura started the move, his dogged persistence won possession and Eagles played a crossfield ball to McNamee who in turn crossed for Darius to head in. The balance of play certainly suggested that Watford deserved this lead and it was fitting that the game's most influential player got it. Henderson nearly added a second only a minute later but Richard Naylor cut out Young's cross.
Alan Lee went close for Ipswich, Foster saving well again and Young also went close before the half drew to close.
Ipswich made two substitutions at half time, which probably proves that Joe Royle was not happy with the first half performance. For the record, Currie and Haynes replaced Bowditch and Brekke-Skard, who was recovering from an early morning skirmish, apparently(!).
Mr C Webster then entered his "look at me - I'm a very important referee" phase and blew for anything resembling a foul and some that were not. In the fifty-sixth minute, the Ipswich fans wanted one extra whistle blow when Alan Lee was apparently brought down by Malky Mackay. Note to Tractor Boys: You did not get a penalty because Mr Webster did not blow his whistle (he was out of breath), not because Malky Mackay used to play for Norwich or has a habit of doing rude things to himself. From my rather distant vantage point in the Rookery, it was hard to say whether it was a penalty or not...but the simple fact was that it wasn't given. Mackay did suffer the wrath of the visiting supporters for a while, though.
Ipswich equalised two minutes later anyway. Nicky Forster was pretty much unchallenged when he met Currie's free kick to head home. Every game, we see the Watford defence go to sleep at least once and it costs us on occasions like this.
On the hour, Henderson managed to stab the ball home at the second attempt after Young's free-kick was headed to him by Mackay but this was ruled out for offside. The Rookery now aired their rendition of "Marlon says you're a ". This, to the uninitiated, was a reference to what had allegedly been said to the lineman at Wolves. Most of the crowd around me thought it was highly amusing; the stewards who have now resorted to that stupid rule of nicking bottle tops for their Blue Peter collections at the turnstiles wanted to throw out 2,000 people for foul language but thought better of it.
Watford finally regained the lead in the seventy-seventh minute. Young was adjudged onside when running onto a Bangura through-ball and his right wing cross was met by Darius Henderson who headed home off the foot of the post for his second of the game and fourteenth of the season. Is it me or does he only ever score in pairs?
Mackay was booked, Watford replaced McNamee with Stewart and Ipswich replaced Lee with Peters and Watford were welcomed home for the three points.
Just before the full-time whistle, it was announced that Aidy Boothroyd would like the fans to stay behind for a few minutes after the game for a special word. Rumours abounded that he was leaving for the England job (not yet, surely), the already buoyant atmosphere was further enhanced and the Rookery (yes, plus the other stands sometimes) ran through their whole repertoire of songs including "we got Mariappa (or Lloyd Doyley), he's gonna score a goal" for some reason (I admit my usual song interpretation capability was struggling with this one a bit).
What actually transpired was a practice penalty shoot out: a team of yellow against a team of red. Aidy asked the crowd to boo and create a "hostile" atmosphere which was fun, to say the least. I won't list all the takers but Marlon King scored (top right corner, unsaveable), Theo Robinson scored (just like Marlon, could be good that kid), Gavin Mahon missed (which could be a blessing), Matthew Spring scored (after being treated to a chorus of "scum, scum, scum" followed by his usual song), Alec Chamberlain missed (a very unpopular result) and some others scored, some missed. Yellow won.
It was great fun to watch, another Boothroyd masterstroke, not least because it involved the Watford crowd, nearly all of who stayed to watch. It has been a marvellous season so far, let's hope we can get over the final couple of hurdles (all right, Beechers Brook and The Chair) and pit our wits against the country's finest. We might survive, we might even get a decent ref or two. It could be fun, though.