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Nationwide League Division 1, 2/3/99
Ipswich Town 3(2)
Scorers: Dyer (17), Venus (27), Johnson (74)
Watford 2(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 2, Page 3, Palmer 4, Robinson 3, Daley 2, *Hyde 4*, Smart 3, Hazan 2, Easton 3
Subs: Iroha (for Daley) 3, Mooney (for Smart) 3, Smith (for Easton) 3
Scorers: Smith (82), Mooney (84)
Denied by FA small print
Report by Ian Grant

Imagine for a moment that there is a greater power. Not a traditional god necessarily, perhaps just someone who's fallen asleep after eating too much cheese and is dreaming all this.

Their imagination's done a very professional job, generally. Attention to detail counts for a lot in any line of work, let alone the creation of a universe - so, as well as imagining me, they've created Watford and Nina from the Cardigans in leather keks and tech step and Provamel chocolate soya dessert and graf writers and Eastenders and Laphroiag to keep me happy. Thanks, mate. They're not infallible - creating Crystal Palace is going to be a blot on anyone's CV - but never mind.

You do have to wonder sometimes, however, what kind of absolute sadist could dream up this stuff. Take last night, for example. One of those occasions when glory is dangled in front of your nose, when you really feel that there's something so wonderful about to happen, when it's so close you can taste it. And then it's cruelly whisked away again. You bastard.

Last night, you see, we came back from 3-0 down with ten minutes to go to grab a bonkers draw from the jaws of another soggy defeat. And it was bur-rill-iant. Except that FA small print apparently dictates that you have actually to put the ball through the rectangular wooden things, rather than merely claim that you could've if you'd wanted to, so we didn't and it wasn't. Bugger.

It was a curious match, in a thoroughly depressing kinda way. Despite dominating for long periods, despite out-doing Ipswich in terms of goal attempts, we were strictly second best. In the final third, there was simply no comparison. The first half statistics said it all - three shots for Ipswich, of which two were goals and one forced Alec Chamberlain into a fine save; five shots for Watford, none of which required Richard Wright to move a muscle. That's the difference.

Whatever people say, Allan Smart is not the issue. Once again, he was safe and assured whenever those behind chose to give him reasonable service. He wasted just one half-chance, halfway through the second period, and only the completely uncharitable would castigate him for that. No, the problems stem from those around him.

Check Ipswich's forward play - swift, sharp and crisp. It involves all their attacking players, whatever their official job title is, not in fighting for scraps as Smart has become so good at doing but in controlled passing and movement. We used to be like that, remember? It's called confidence.

We showed a bit of it, for anyone who's forgotten what it looks like. Having had an early scare - Chamberlain pushing away Magilton's drive from distance after just a couple of minutes - we set about our business in a pleasingly assertive way. For fifteen minutes, we were comfortably the better side. Not just in terms of harmless possession either - our passing was not only neat but also positive, as befits a Graham Taylor side. Had the luck fallen our way a little - Bazeley's cross deflected just beyond Smart's dive, Robinson mis-hitting a shot after some nervous defending - then we might really have been onto something.

In the away section, we were just getting into the swing of things when Ipswich's first goal spoilt the mood like a Smiths record at a wedding reception. Did we miss Richard Johnson? You betcha - you wouldn't expect to see Ipswich dart through the centre of our midfield with such ease, providing Dyer with enough space on the edge of the area to pick out a low shot that evaded Chamberlain's dive.

The heads went down immediately. It was there in everything we did, the confidence ebbing away - midfielders flicked safe little sideways passes around between themselves, occasionally launching giant cross-field balls to an inevitable blue shirt. Suddenly - and again this was exacerbated by Johnno's absence - possession was a burden that we didn't want.

Another nippy Ipswich break eventually brought a second. Steve Palmer, in commanding form back at his old club (and showing that he has more pace than his awkward running style suggests), got in a tackle to deny the marauding Johnson but Robert Page's follow-up challenge right on the edge of the box was penalised. Play was suspended to allow Dyer to receive lengthy treatment for what turned out to be a broken leg, before Venus exploded the free kick into the top corner. The rain pelted down in sympathy.

What remained of the half was filled with tentative, almost apologetic Watford play. With Allan Smart completely isolated, Tony Daley playing like his bootlaces were tied together and Peter Kennedy in too familar invisible mode, the midfield found itself taking the strain. And the strain told. Only once did a Watford player stride forward without looking for a get-out pass - Micah Hyde, thankfully back in the side, exchanging passes with Daley and shooting narrowly wide from twenty-five yards. Daley followed the example and, in his one moment of quality, did the same on the stroke of half-time.

Most of the second half was thoroughly miserable. If you must watch your team lose, it'd be preferable not to have to do it sat next to two arms-folded, get-off-Smart-you-c*** kinda fans. One moment summed up their tremendous support rather well. Smart tried to keep hold of the umpteenth duff through-ball - it hit his foot and bounced away, which brought the inevitable torrent of abuse from my neighbours. The Watford striker regained possession, chasing the ball down and barging an Ipswich player out of the way before striding forward - while the rest of us roared him on, there was nothing but defiant silence from my right. And I thought I was sad - at least I travel to all these games in the hope of enjoying myself....

Anyway, in a half that Watford completely dominated, there was only one side that was going to score. And it wasn't us, you'll be shocked to hear. Within the first five minutes, Ipswich had almost buried us as Wilnis' right wing cross found Naylor all on his own six yards out. In truth, he shouldn't have allowed Chamberlain to get anywhere near his header, but the Watford keeper was able to pull off a miraculous save to get the ball over the bar and keep his side vaguely in the match.

A full half hour passed before the match sprang to life. In that time, the Hornets muddled through without ever looking like scoring. The double substitution (Tommy Smith and Ben Iroha for Tony Daley and Clint Easton) made only a marginal difference - we did at least have a couple of high confidence players on the pitch and Allan Smart had someone to help him but their impact was restricted by our utterly pedestrian approach work. For all the honest effort that was put in, particularly by the likes of Hyde and Robinson, we looked a beaten side, going through the motions.

Venus blasted another free kick just off target, and then we created our first actual, genuine chance of the game. Hurrah! A bit of a mess, all in all, but a clear demonstration that if you get the ball into the box, stuff happens. It bounced aimlessly about until Smart got on the end of it - finding himself with a horrendously tight angle, he did all he could and Wright made a good save at his near post to keep out the shot.

All very exciting, just a shame that Ipswich went up the other end and scored a third less than a minute later. Magilton put Johnson through and he calmly rounded Chamberlain to score. They say that every cloud has a silver lining, however, and it proved to be so - my neighbours left in disgust and the heavens opened just as they would've got outside, so there is some justice in the world after all....

Five minutes later, Petta's brilliant run into the box might've ended with a fourth, as he clattered the ball across the face of goal. Tommy Mooney arrived in place of the knackered, isolated but improving Smart - sadly, much as I love the guy, much as he's been a hero in the past, his arrival sparks no excitement in me anymore. We continued to fart about anonymously.

It was too easy. Ipswich sensed more goals and committed men forward to get them. As one attack broke down, the ball fell to Tommy Smith who broke away into the opposition half with no support. He did the only thing he could, charging towards goal and trying a shot - it was low and hard, but still shouldn't have beaten Wright. A consolation, some kind of reward to raise spirits for the long journey back to Brighton.

But there was more. The pressure was off and the confidence rose. With nothing to lose and no expectation to crush us, we were a completely different side. Just over a minute later, we won a corner. As the words "Wouldn't it be interesting if we..." left various lips, Hyde's kick floated over to the far post and Mooney nodded it in.

Bloody hell. Having accepted the obvious fact of defeat, we were suddenly pouring forward as Ipswich panicked. The fans were on their feet, giving the team booming encouragement for their endeavours. The point that we probably would've grabbed with both hands at the start was back within our reach. And, more than anything, I just wanted us to pull off the miracle to spite my departed neighbours....

The chance came with a couple of minutes to go. Robinson's driven cross found its way over to Iroha, completely unmarked about eight yards out. We momentarily held our breath, anticipating and savouring the celebrations should his shot go in. Oh, it would've been soooo beautiful. Unfortunately, there was no shot - he swang at it wildly, made precisely no contact with the ball and we were holding heads in hands when we'd hoped to be bursting with joy. Bugger again.

The comeback still had some benefits. It saved us from the now traditional jeering at the final whistle, it hopefully restored some confidence in our abilities. I'm less convinced that the substitutions point the way forward - I've seen Tommy Mooney as a centre forward too many times in the past, I'm afraid, although the combination of Smart and Smith shows promise.

What it really shows, however, is what we're still capable of when we forget ourselves.

The other side
Report by Paul Godden

An important game for both teams kicked off with nearly 19,000 fans, the TV audience and at least one cat (who would later attempt a lone pitch invasion) watching. Early pressure from Watford suggested a tough game for Ipswich but their early barking was much worse than their bite and the pressure soon dissolved allowing Ipswich to find their feet, despite the rain.

A well taken chance from Keiron Dyer opened the scoring despite some distasteful tackling from Watford who appeared to be intent on removing him from the game. This they did, having broken his leg prior to the goal being scored. Ipswich then scored their second from a freekick which can only be described as a blast into the corner of the net from Mark Venus. Half time and more rain.

With neither side really dominating in the second half Ipswich's play always looked more dangerous and with a welcome return to goalscoring David Johnson finished Watford least that's what everyone thought but Ipswich tired and seemed almost to go to sleep. Watford, sensing the weakness, applied a little more pressure and the goal came. A half chance that should never have made it to the goal line let alone in the goal passed the normally sure footed Richard Wright floundering on the wet pitch. Watford saw their chance, pressed forward and with minutes to go got the second from a corner, simple but effective. This led to a nailbiting finish as Watford tried to complete the mission impossible and save a point. Ipswich managed to hang on and went away with three very costly points (Dyer unlikely to take part in any more games this season).