There for the taking
Report by Ian Grant
You'll have guessed from the fact that Chris' Portsmouth report appeared in ten foot high letters that I haven't had the best of weeks. With a head full of flu germs, I could have done without this kind of stress.
This was a critical game. At last able to field a side that bears some relation to the one we'd like to see, we needed to get back on the right track. Shame, then, that the good people of Watford couldn't be bothered to turn up and support their team. Seven thousand seems a bit optimistic to me - there were huge gaps in the North and South stands and for periods of the match we were actually outsung by Southend. It's difficult to see how we can persuade the players to make an effort when the town obviously doesn't give a toss anymore.
All credit to the players, therefore, who had to lift themselves in front of a passionless crowd after falling behind to an early Southend goal. After five minutes, Dave Regis got his head to a cross and it looped into the net - absolute disaster. Our defence has been a shambles recently, conceding two goals a game, and it's as much to do with individual errors as anything else - in this case, Holdsworth should have won the header and Miller should have kept it out.
This was the cue for lots of smart-arse comments from fans - heaven forbid that you should admit you care about the team - and general panic among the players. Thank God for the presence of Hessenthaler, Mooney and Phillips, none of whom would ever let their heads go down. It took fifteen minutes of unconvincing probing to get level - Hessenthaler's cross fell to Caskey and his shot was deflected past the stranded keeper.
The relief was obvious and we began to pass the ball around, with the mighty Hess - it's so good to have him back - controlling the midfield superbly. We created some fabulous chances but let Southend off the hook - Moralee and Phillips (twice) found themselves unmarked in the six yard box and headed or shot straight at the keeper. Southend felt sorry for us and did their best to help - a defender (remarkably, not Keithy Dublin) falling over and knocking the ball just past the post.
Not that our defence was looking too steady. Miller was forced to make his best save of the day when Southend broke and Gridelet found himself in the clear. Had the chance fallen to a striker, it would have been a second goal - fortunately, Gridelet delayed for a second and Miller snatched the ball from his feet.
We got the second half off to a flying start by conceding a goal in the first thirty seconds. Again, a horrible goal - Mooney (at makeshift left-back) out of position, Miller indecisive, 2-1.
At this point, all my good intentions about treating my sore throat kindly were forgotten. Super Kev equalised ten minutes later - a virtually identical goal to the one he got at Portsmouth, created by Mooney and finished from close range. From then on, we were all over Southend, demolishing a side in a way we haven't done since Stoke.
I have no idea how we didn't score. The pressure was incredible as Hess ran himself into the ground, Foster lumbered forward to win crosses and Caskey began to show some of his quality. This time we did everything we could - hitting the target countless times only to see our efforts denied. On one occasion, a defender blocked a shot on the line and botted the ball into a collegue's arse, causing an almighty scramble on the goalline.
This was much more like it. Palmer had a curled shot flicked wide by the keeper. That was a fine save but the one that followed was breathtaking. Phillips was two yards out, the goal was at his mercy and headed into the top corner, we went up to celebrate - somehow, Royce got a hand to it. It was an unbelievable save and it earnt Southend an undeserved point.
Some morons booed at the end, for Christ's sake. If we can come up with attacking displays like this more often, we won't be going far wrong. With Hessenthaler, the most complete and underrated player at the club, back in the side, the midfield has a cutting edge and can provide the strikers with the service they deserve. Kevin Phillips must have thought Christmas had come early - shame he didn't claim the hat-trick that was there for the taking.
The defence remains suspect, however. Putting Mooney at left back seems to have improved our attacking options - it's always a joy to see him steaming down the left wing like a madman - but he's horribly naive when defending. The rest of the defence is still below par, with Miller in particular making uncharacteristic errors that are costing points.
Ultimately, had one of the chances gone in, we'd have been celebrating a vital win. Instead, we're deep in trouble, with only an encouraging performance to take heart from.
We could not afford to lose
Report by Kate Holmes
Having played Southend four times last season, winning three and not conceding a goal, it was a little bit much to expect an easy victory this time. We welcomed back Hessy, played with Tommy Mooney at left back, and very surprisingly dropped Keith Millen. I like operating with three centre halves, especially if one of our full backs is going to be a forward - it makes me feel a little bit safer. We also had Kevin Miller back in goal after last week's disaster.
Just like last week we got off to an awful start. The game was only a few minutes old when they went and scored. Several defensive lapses gave an unchallenged cross and unchallenged header, and them the lead. After recent results this was exactly what we didn't want to do. Our confidence has been shaken quite a lot, and this was one game we could not afford to lose.
The pathetic showing of support didn't help - over 10,000 less than appeared for the Blackburn game, and more Southend fans showed up for this one than Blackburn managed to bring. Needless to say the minute we went a goal behind, the fans started moaning and whingeing. I have the misfortune to sit near Gerard Lavin's hate club - there are many members from the sounds of things, but this lot are awful. Darren Caskey came in for a lot of abuse, but he seemed to have learnt his lesson from last week. Premier League Pretty Boys are not all that welcome in our division, and it takes a lot for one of them to get accepted. Caskey did show quite a lot of skill, and some of his passing is unbelievable. It is a pity none of our players can read what he is going to do.
Caskey did manage to endear himself to the Hornets' faithful by equalising. A typical Premier League/Alan Shearer type fluke- deflection-off-defender goal that we never score. Hessy crossed from the left, and Caskey's shot went in thanks to one of their defenders (not Dublin, unfortunately). After that there was only one team in it, although Kevin Miller was called upon to make one excellent save, in a one-on-one situation. Our defence looked rattled, and struggled with Regis, but at least we had what almost resembled a midfield. Hessy covered every inch of that pitch at least twice, and hassled their players - something we have really missed.
We created several chances to score, but their keeper seemed to pick this game to have the performance of his life. Moralee headed a cross down - exactly what forwards are told to do - and the keeper saved. A right wing cross to the far post was met by Super Kev who headed back to where the keeper came from, somehow he saved. Another cross met by Super Kev was volleyed and again the keeper was there to save it. At least we were creating chances, and putting them on target.
Half-time came with us still on level terms but it always looked as if there would be more goals in this game. The half-time entertainment was quite amusing, with our ball-boys taking on a team from Scum in the shoot-out. Our ball-boys won convincingly. Let's hope this performance rubs off in the next home match.
We began the second half in the worst way possible, by conceding another goal, Mooney losing possession, caught out of position, and the cross tucked away. We seem to like to give ourselves a mountain to climb. Thankfully we have a little player called Super Kev. Mooney, making up for his error, got in down the left, crossed low and hard beyond the keeper, and Super Kev had a simple tap in. The sort of goal that proven goalscorers get, where you have to be in the right place at the right time.
The game started to look like last season's home match with Southend, when Nogan got that injury time winner. We camped in their half, but their keeper was not going to let the ball in. Even Keith Dublin seemed determined not to score an own goal, although he did give it a good try with a mix-up with the keeper but the ball was cleared. We created chance after chance, with Mooney coming close with a shot, and another Super Kev header incredibly saved by the keeper. On another day we would have probably won this game 5-0 (an apt scoreline considering what Scum did - ha ha ha). But it wasn't to be.
Overall we played all right, with Hessy looking totally wrecked by the end of the match. Caskey showed some good touches, but he still looks like he can't be bothered. As for Ramage, he just was not in the game at all. There seems to be something bugging him, but I can't think what it could be. Maybe he is mourning over Rushveldt as well. Still, all we have to do is win our next home game and I'll be a happy bunny.
Too near the doom zone
Report by Darren Rowe
Why do Southend never bring crowds. Is it that they're only used to small little grounds and stands made of Lego? Or is it just because they really are the smallest team in the division, a third division team playing in the first division. Whatever the reason, large tracts of the game were totally devoid of anything that vaguely resembled chanting, no cheering on the team, and certainly no banter between sets of rival supporters that is such a part of football -it was a return to the good old days of the open terrace, but without the stamping, clapping or scoreboard.
One of these days, I'm sure, I will write a report that does not say that Watford looked decidely shaky in the first ten minutes. This, however, is not one of those reports. As has become frighteningly common, the opposition were all over us in the first ten minutes of the game or so, but where previously the defence has managed to hold tight, this time a well placed Regis header put the Shrimpers in front with only five minutes on the watch. At that point I was genuinely scared that they could be after reversing the thrashing we dished out to them at their place last year - except they had a striker up front! My sentiment was not aided by the first request for Roeder to get his chequebook out after only ten minutes, but then I did find myself seated in a part of the North stand populated solely by Supergobs!
After their goal, the Southend fans started chanting, but such atmosphere was short-lived, as they stopped singing shortly after, not because we had scored, or even because we were outsinging them, they just stopped.
Once the initial shaky period was over, Watford began to pressurise - Hessenthaler's return was genuinely the best thing to happen to this club all season. He was instrumental in forming most of the danger to Southend, and, not surprisingly, put in the cross which Caskey got on the end of to equalise.
The half was played out with Watford having most of the ball, but not really making it count for much. Moralee and Phillips all had fantastic chances to put us in the lead, but squandered them. Miller even had to pull out a fantastic save to deny Gridelet, and keep it level.
That said when the two teams went in at half time all square, Southend could consider themselves a touch lucky with the scoreline, not to take any gloss from Regis' goal - it was deserved, but if it wasn't for some early defensive frailty Watford could have been 2-0 up or so, but battling back to level the game takes more work, in my opinion, than scoring the opener.
Half time once again provided some entertainment. Firstly, my twice monthly attempt to lose a pound paid off - it was Kingsley's turn to select the team in the ten second shootout, so I was lumbered with a team from Luton. Despite being allowed to shoot towards the South stand, the pressure of the North Stand chanting anti-Luton chants would have got to them - especially their 'keeper who failed to get a hand to any of the balls before they went in the back of the net, the Watford FC Ballboys using a frighteningly similar tactic each time to get around him.
First three numbers on the 50-50 game too - Harry, the ticket seller, promised me a win, and I figured that if anyone could control the outcome of the game then it would be Harry Hornet, but no, I was to be denied again. The odds are pretty good for that lottery, and I must win it sometime. Oh well, I can live in eternal hope!
Then Saggitarius, the dance troupe, came out. They had somehow lost all their music and so were dancing to nothing, just swinging there legs inanely to some made up beat going round in their heads. Dancing troupes with no music - now I've seen it all. I do hope that the club don't pay for that exquisite entertainment, because if they do, it would be better spent on a player.
The second half began as badly as the first. Now, you regular readers of my oeuvre will know that I tend to find Watford playing with a renewed mettle as the second half begins but this time, we didn't and before I realised it, Mooney had somehow failed to put a tackle in - he is a midfielder, not a left back - leaving the Southend striker with an easy one-on-one against Miller, which he duly converted. 2-1 down within 30 seconds of the restart. Humiliation of the highest order.
Again Watford began to put pressure on to try and claw back the goal, and ten minutes later, Mooney redeemed himself, putting a pin-point cross from the wing in to Phillips, who duly put it in the back of the net.
From that point on Watford didn't put a foot wrong, but then again, neither did Southend's keeper Royce. The midfield was putting together some excellent manoeuvres, fantastic one touch passing play, which inevitably ended up in the area only to be hoofed away by a defender like Dublin, who decided it prudent to enjoy a subdued game rather than endure the wrath of the North Stand.
Cross after cross were floating in, but somehow they were staying out. On one occasion Royce was beaten, but a defender on the far post wasn't and he managed to hoof the ball out, but only as far as his team-mates rear-end-provoking an almighty goalmouth scramble, but nothing came of it.
Even the mighty Phillips was denied from two yards. His pin point header was aimed straight for the top corner of the goal, the fans were convinced that it was going to be in, but somehow Royce got a palm to it and flicked it wide.
For Southend to be going home having denied us of two points does not do justice to Watford. That was a game that we should have won, as I have affirmed before, we can afford to draw against the Wolves of this world, but we must win the six pointers, especially with us so near the doom zone. That was a game that we could have won had we had a full strength defence, but even Porter is not a left back, so that position needs to be looked at long and hard to determine the best way to plug the gap. Glenn played 4-4-2 which gave us a full strength midfield, but left us frail at the back - we have three extremely good centre-backs, and to drop one of them, particularly Millen, who in my mind has been the steadiest of the three, is a risky policy, but five at the back doesn't win games. We urgently need a good, tackling, left back now that our midfield and forward line looks in order.
All the same, credit where credit is due, Southend's defence held firm enough considering it was peppered with crosses and shots constantly, and from all over the park.
Nevertheless, my drive home was not a pleasant one, especially considering that I got lost and ended up going to my Grandparents' home in Hemel Hempstead via Moor Park, Rickmansworth, Chalfont and Amersham. What a waste of petrol! I'll risk queuing in Hempstead Road next time!