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Nationwide League Division 2, 26/10/96
Blackpool 1(1)
Scorers: Quinn (31)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Miller 3, Gibbs 3, Ludden 3, Johnson 2, Millen 3, *Page 4*, Bazeley 4, Penrice 4, White 1, Palmer 3, Mooney 4
Subs: Robinson, Ward, Noel-Williams
Scorers: Mooney (54)
Laughing uncontrollably
Report by Pete Goddard

Bloomfield Road, by all accounts, was one of the great stadiums of the 1940s. Every effort has been made in the intervening period to ensure that it hasn't changed and not even a lick of paint has been allowed to disfigure it. The Whibread Tankard advert which dominates the roof of one stand is still plainly visible. Those parts of the ground which have unfortunately crumbled away have been fenced off with huge rusty corrugated fences, perfectly in keeping with the rest of the ground. One such bars the view of a corner flag completely from the away terrace.

The 1940s was also the heyday of the final generation of a great breed of northern comics and Blackpool was their spiritual home. In those days, Northern Comedy was very different from its pushy Southern counterpart. Slow, born out of domesticity and generations of strife, featuring an assortment of pratfalls, heavy dollops of irony and tales which meandered endlessly without a punchline ever seeming to likely to disturb them, Northern comedy seemed an apt metaphor for much of this game. The pratfalls arose on a pitch seemingly made of green treacle. I counted five players falling over in one 30 second period. Blackpool played a solid, if careworn and unexciting, game. However, it was Watford who dominated the proceedings with their own comedy secret weapon - Devon White.

I have attempted to defend Devon in the past from the criticism which he has increasingly been attracting. People have said that he's a donkey, but there have been claims that he's good in the air, that he intimidates defences, that he acts as a decoy and that he's not been getting the service that he deserves. Sadly none of this is can be said to apply any longer. Although he's obviously a likeable fellow and a genuine tryer, today the few balls that Devon won in the air went invariably to the opposition and defences were more distracted (as were we) by their own laughter at the incompetence of his efforts than by any threat that Devon himself might have posed. It also became abundantly clear that Devon is not getting any service because his own team-mates know only too well what will happen when he gets the ball. A successful one-two with Devon is a rare sight indeed. It's true that Devon covers the pitch and tackles back but even in defence he is rarely more accomplished than in attack. He's lost the confidence of the team, he's fast losing the confidence of the supporters, who booed, whistled and fell about with laughter at any display of his footballing skills, and it can't be long before he loses Jackett's confidence too. A great comic genius he may be but Bruce Forsyth would have been more use as a striker at Blackpool. In the 90 minutes here I counted two goal attempts from Devon, both wildly off target. In practice (and despite increasingly frustrated calls for Gifton from the away end - someone even shouted: "Feign injury, Devon"), Watford spent this entire game playing with ten men.

The game itself? I was afraid you'd ask me about that. A blow-by-blow account would be impossible due to the absence of blows. Watford began brightly (how often have you heard that?) and looked fractionally the better side for much of the first half. Then Blackpool scored from a goal-mouth scramble whose circumstances have largely failed to imprint themselves on my memory. There followed ten minutes either side of half-time in which very little seemed to happen at all.

Watford's goal, a few minutes into the second half, was the product of the sole piece of genuine skill the match produced. To say that it followed a period of sustained Watford pressure would be most charitable, but we had had a bit of the ball. If memory serves (and again it is sketchy), Bazeley brought the ball down the left, laid it back to Gibbs who produced a neat dink across the outside of the box. A lay-off or deflection brought it to Mooney, ten yards out and level with the right-hand post, and he slammed the ball in the net without a second's thought, leaving the keeper with scarcely the time to dive. In the five minutes that followed Watford really did look threatening but with little result, before the game again reverted to the Northern farce from which it had briefly emerged - each side having opportunities, but neither looking likely to make much of them.

The exception was a penalty shout fifteen minutes from time. Penrice received the ball on the edge of the area needing to beat three defenders to find a route to the goal or the byline. He jinked past two - having easily the most accomplished feet on the pitch - before finding his path blocked by a large Blackpool defender with his foot up who saw to it that he didn't remain on his feet. It was good shout (and we shouted good!) and although in truth it was more obstruction than foul, most other referees would have given it. This referee was one of those unwilling to fall out with the home crowd, so we got very liitle of the benefit of the doubt all afternoon. And, to be fair, a draw was about all we deserved.

Watford are a curious side at present. We're still in touch at the top despite poor performances and a jaded appearance, but we desperately need a couple of new players to boost our skill and confidence even at this level. There were long periods here in which Watford seemed almost to be playing with about four men. Page was magnificent, seemingly winning any ball that came near him, in the air on the ground. He has an uncanny ability to read the game at this level and whenever Watford cut off a Blackpool attack just as it was about to threaten, the player involved always seemed to be Page. Penrice too was a cut above his surroundings. His ball skills were delightful and he won much more in the air than poor Devon. He also looked genuinely committed and his visible frustration after Blackpool scored showed a player with gratifying dedication to an unedifying cause. Bazeley is developing nicely as a nippy winger with an extra yard of pace. His crossing is still inconsistent but is occasionally exceptional. It would be unfortunate if Bazeley had to be dropped to accomodate Flatts. Mooney was in and out of the game but always looked capable of something and did produce a fine goal. Everyone else (Devon apart) performed well enough, but how much the general game would be raised by the introduction of some competition in the squad and a half-decent target man to make trying things worthwhile. In the present climate at the club, we all know this to be a pipe-dream. Sadly and mysteriously, the one player (Andrews) whose flair might have set this match alight was missing. The reasons for this were not clear but it looks ominously like another case of "small striker jinx".

Leaving the ground, frustrated at the aimlessness of it all, I passed a tea hut blasting out the local radio report of the game. "This was a game which Watford deserved to win," said the reporter in true Northern Comedy style, "after Penrice had a legitimate penalty turned down in second half." And then the punchline: "Devon White always looked dangerous for Watford." Several dozen Watford supporters sunk to their knees laughing uncontrollably.