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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 7/3/98
Blackpool 1(0)
Scorers: Clarkson (88)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 4, Easton 3, Page 3, Millen 2, Mooney 3, *Bazeley 4*, Palmer 3, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Rosenthal 3
Subs: Noel-Williams (for Rosenthal) 4, Foley, Slater
Scorers: Bazeley (53)
It's a long way to darkest Blackpool
Report by Pete Fincham

A mild hangover, a cold March morning, a dodgy two litre Sierra that had only recently crawled through an MOT. Then there was Alex, Mark and a loved up Rupert. Not exactly the greatest start to the day as it was. But then there was the 450 mile round trip to face, and as I awoke in my special chair in my lounge, I groaned loudly at the day ahead!

In short, I faced a long trip to one of the largest hell holes in Europe.

After a surprisingly quick journey up there, we arrived with a few hours to kill and, after getting as near to the Irish Sea as we dare and Mark convincing Rupert that a pony ride was not an option, we endured a few brief minutes in the pleasure beach. A more ghastly place I have never visited, but the visit was made more bright by me winning a two foot tiger on a 'throw a ball and break a bottle' experience. I named him Roy, after Roy Clare R.I.P.

We arrived at the partly condemned stadium which is the home to Blackpool F.C., where once some of the greats of English football thrilled the massive crowds with their skills. Nowadays the likes of Gary Brabin clog around the pitch, where instead of tearing through defences, they do their best to tear the skin of opposing defenders away from the bone.

Incidentally for all those who complain about the Vic pitch after a mauling from Saracens, take a look at what was on offer in Blackpool. Divots, holes, and wonky markings. And that was in the good bit. The fact that so much rain had fallen was a minor excuse for the dreadful state of the playing surface, but not even the rain could be blamed for the way the pitch went up and down like the famous Pepsi-Max situated less than a mile away.

Optimism was high, even with Kennedy, Robinson, Hazan etc. etc. out, but the news that Bazeley would start was as usual greeted with the same mixture of enthusiasm and despair; he continues to frustrate on the whole despite showing his true ability as a player. I think he'll be first to admit that over the years he has been messed around positionally more times than is healthy for a player seeking consistently, and we can all remember what he did away at Manchester City last season, Blackburn back in 1991-92 when he single handedly tormented the experienced Daglishian defence into submission, and his rather fortunate hat-trick against Southend a few season back. But last season we saw the best of him (Man City, Northampton goal) and at times the worst where he would just run into people!

And Saturday was not too different.....!

The opening exchanges were largely influenced by the high winds which were against the Golden Boys for the first half, but despite a few high and hopeful excursions into our half, Blackpool rarely threatened until Brabin seemed to beat the offside and poke in at the back post. However, the linesman proved to be on the ball just this once, judging Brabin to have strayed off side and the visitors breathed again. The traveling faithful cheered again, continuing their chants relating the proven sexual misdemeanors of Blackpool's ex-Chairman to those alleged against David Pleat!

Watford had a fair portion of the play considering they were playing into a fairly strong wind, but as Lee was getting penalised every time he made ground on a defender, this was never going to be his, or Watford's, day. Easton looked lively coming forward, while the worrying lack of pace of Keith Millen continues to make life a little bit more interesting at the back than is comfortable.

Then Rosenthal went down under a challenge that was too far away from us to comment. He didn't get up and was last seen heading off down the tunnel to a moronic round of whistles from the fans who cannot get work from October to March! Gifton came on to measured applause from the faithful. Having played arguably his best game for Watford against Bristol Rovers, I thought he possibly deserved the start today, but clearly the rest he had at the start of the year has been beneficial. He looks sharper, hungrier and more decisive. A better player all round. He also is beginning to work well with Lee, and at the start of the second half, with the wind at their backs, the Hornets took control. Gifton fed Jason. Jason was obstructed. Referee gave foul against Jason. Gifton fed Jason. Jason was pulled back. Referee booked Jason.

Then, a bit of Bazeley magic. It was, in short, Northampton away revisited. Wind was high. Bazeley placed it. It went in! Dodgy celebration but we went mad despite the thumb moving jig young Darren was performing! (Cue the Darren Fan Club rejoicing in his selection!)

A few minutes later he as going to try it again from exactly the same position, but instead cut inside, ignored an unmarked Easton 8 yards to his left and blasted it into the keepers stomach. (Cue the unbelievers having a go!)

The best and somewhere near the worst in a few short minutes!

Lee continued his one man battle against the officials by being completely pulled down in the area, but a free kick being given against him yet again. A similar fate befell Johnno a few minutes later, and we all knew that there was something fishy about Mr. Pike, that day's muppet with a whistle.

Meanwhile Brabin had been booked for a bit of bother with, I think, Alec in our area. Another one of his customary late, but surely fair ref...!, challenges. Then, not ten minutes later, a horrific lunge on Mooney got him his marching orders for a second bookable, when it could have warranted a red on its own. How Worthington suggested that he didn't deserve to go defies belief, but I'm sure he'll shut up about it once he has seen the video.

A few bizarre free kicks, off sides and throw ins later we found ourselves with two minutes to go, and a peculiar decision to award a free kick to Blackpool fifteen yards from the half way line, out on the left. We all knew what was to happen. And as the ball hit the wind it stopped and Clarkson got in-between all three central defenders to nod in off the crossbar.

In the moments that remained, Gifton went on a run and the ball got played in from the right. Cue confusion and anxiety as the ball found Easton eight yards out. With the goal gaping he found he had an anarchic streak in him, deciding on a high shot that vandalised the condemned terrace behind the goal, rather than test out the back of the goal netting. As the whistle blew, we knew that as another two points had been lost, this was not going to be a pleasant next few weeks.

I suppose we would have settled for the point before the game. But looking back, Blackpool were only marginally better than when we thrashed them in November. We are just considerably more edgy in front of goal (I think I remember only one Johnno shot, possibly only one from Palmer), and have suffered at the hands of more than our fair share of baffling refereeing decisions in the last few months. Lee is hopelessly victimised by them, and the linesmen should at least be able to keep up with play, rather than assume that every time a player is put through he is offside.

Will they never learn. Sometimes I wonder whether it is just a lot more simple to hoof the ball into the area from our own half, and let everyone charge through, hoping that the ball goes somewhere where it is expected. At least that way we would have a chance at not getting given offside.

Well, it worked in the early 80s!

What goes around, comes around
Report by Adrian Spender

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the subject of refereeing. The general feeling being that something needs to be done to assist the men in black who are increasingly coming under strong criticism for their decisions. I am of the view that such "assistance" will do more to harm the game as a spectator event, and that to use a well-worn cliche, things even themselves out over the course of a season. However, displays like that of Mr. S. Pike of Barrow do lead me to wonder.

Such was the display of inept refereeing that Mr. Pike had to be escorted from the field at the end of the match due to the wrath of the home support. The thing is, had the players tunnel been at our end of the ground, he would have had a very similar reception.

The two changes made to the side that lost against Walsall were very predictable: Jason Lee replacing the damp squib that is Dominic Foley, with Darren Bazeley starting in place of Gifton. Otherwise Graham Taylor kept faith with the side that was so unfortunate to lose to the Midlanders. The opening encounters saw the majority of pressure come from Blackpool, and one particular drive from 20 yards produced a solid, if not special, save from Chamberlain who had relatively little to do throughout the game. Another chance nearly fell to the Seasiders when a curling cross was about to be met inside the six yard box but Mooney somehow got his head in front of the waiting attacker to clear the danger.

By all accounts the defence in recent games has looked dodgy, and it was heartening to note that Page, Millen and Mooney put in strong performances. However, it was the midfield which caused most concern as I lost count of the times where Blackpool players were able to receive the ball around the centre circle, look up, select a player, pause to complete The Times crossword (okay, given that they're football players, maybe it was the latest Beano join-the-dots puzzle) and then make the pass without so much as a challenge from a Watford player. Perhaps the cause of this was the fact that we were pushing forward at every opportunity, with Johnson and Easton both moving the ball around with intelligent , and in some cases defence splitting, passes. Most of the pressure was coming from wide with Bazeley and Gibbs supplying the crosses. However, it was Easton that provided most of the attacking impetus as he continually popped up on the right and played good balls into the box. This resulted in a couple of goalmouth scrambles but it was from possibly his worst cross of the game that our first real chance came. A horrible, bobbling ball somehow evaded everyone and fell to Ronny(?) whose shot from six yards was somehow parried away by the 'keeper. As it happened, the linesman had flagged for offside anyway.

I don't really remember any other opportunities of note in the first half as things were dominated by an incident that saw Ronny Rosenthal carried off the pitch. It seemed that whilst in posession of the ball inside the box near the byeline he was pushed in the back by a Blackpool player and then fell to the ground awkwardly. In any case it appeared to be a fairly serious injury. He was replaced by Gifton who partnered Jason Lee upfront. Lee was having a good game doing his usual efficient job of holding up the ball, winning everything in the air and even on a couple of occasions providing good defensive cover. However, any situation that saw him attempting to go past his marker saw the referee inexplicably signal for a free kick, despite the fact that on most occasions he was doing nothing wrong. Eventually he received a yellow card, one presumes for persistant infringement of the laws. It was indicative of the referee's performance that his very next challenge which saw him blatently push his opponent went unnoticed.

Just as it seemed that Watford would go into half time level a ball played into the Watford six yard box saw Gary Brabin sneak the ball past Chamberlain into the net. His celebrations were cut short as the linesman saw an infringement and much to the disgust of the home support the goal was ruled out.

This seemed to provide the impetus for Watford as they came out in the second half looking much more purposeful in attack. Again it was Bazeley and Easton who provided much of the play, and it was from Bazeley that the opening goal came. Receiving the ball on the right he beat one and then looked up and despatched a wickedly curling ball into the top left corner. The ball was undoubtedly helped by the strong wind blowing in off the sea, but nevertheless it must be a strong contender for goal of the season, although he would do well to lose the disco dancing celebration if he fancies pulling down Kudos.

Things were looking good as the Blackpool attck seemed unable to respond and it was all Watford. Bazeley wasted a superb chance to extend the lead when he beat the defence to find himelf one on one with the 'keeper. Unfortunately his shot went straight at Banks. If he had looked up he would have seen Easton clear on his left for a simple tap in from twelve yards.

The chances of Watford paying the price for this miss seemed even more remote when Brabin was sent off for his second bookable offence with about ten minutes to go. For some unforeseen reason the referee decided to book Mooney as well. As often happens, the reduction to ten men spurred the Seasiders on and they started to apply pressure on the Hornets defence, but with nothing that required Chamberlain to extend himself. That was until the 88th minute when they won a free kick just outside the area. I turned to Pete and said "Don't worry they havn't looked like getting a g..." and before I knew it the kick was taken and it rebounded off the underside of the crossbar for the equaliser.

With such a short time left a reply from Watford was unlikely, but with Mooney on the pitch you never know. It was Clint Easton who came close, however, with Watford's last attack of the game when Bazeley's throw in somehow found him eight yards out, but he sent his shot soaring into the condemned section of the terrace.

So after subjecting York to a late equaliser on our last away trip, the same treatment is dished out to us. Whilst nobody can argue that the point at York wasn't deserved, it was most definitely a point won and it prompted Graham Taylor to state that from then on the Hornets would adopt a more attacking posture. The result of this was that they were unlucky to leave Bloomfield Road without the three points. Of course, the common denominator in both games was the unimpressive displays from the referees involved, but then what's new there?