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98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 9/1/99
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 3, *Page 4*, Palmer 4, Iroha 3, Smart 2, Hyde 2, Noel-Williams 3, Johnson 3, Wright 2
Subs: Bonnot (for Smart) 3, Mooney (for Iroha) 3, Daley (for Wright) 3
Portsmouth 0(0)
Report by Ian Grant

Mmmm. In writing a report about a match like last week's demi-classic at Tottenham, you can let the game speak for itself. Let a game like this speak for itself, however, and all it'll say is "flibble".

Not great, then. If the season's only previous goalless draw against Barnsley had more merits than the scoreline suggested, then this was your authentic "move along, there's nothing to see here" stalemate. The least entertaining spectacle of the campaign so far by, ooh, that much and a flashback to what life in the First Division frequently used to be like for the Hornets prior to Graham Taylor's return.

Let's get on with it, shall we? As we found out to our cost during Kenny Jackett's reign, when teams come to Vicarage Road happy to leave with a point, you have a simple choice - get an early goal or spend ninety frustrating minutes bashing away at a brick wall. And we ought to have got that early goal after eight minutes - Peter Kennedy's glorious left wing cross was flicked on by Allan Smart, bounced up nicely at the far post and Nick Wright dived in but headed wide. Not the easiest opportunity...but, in games of very few chances, you can't afford to pick and choose.

Richard Johnson had a long range effort saved a minute later, but that all too brief flurry of activity heralded a big fat nothing. The rest was busy but unappealing, squalls of midfield combat yielding nothing for the forwards. With Allan Smart uncharacteristically sloppy (apart from one surging run through the middle) and Nick Wright unable to involve himself in the game at all, we were significantly below par in key areas. Add in several other mediocre performances - Darren Bazeley, Peter Kennedy, Micah Hyde - and the reason for the disappointing result is clear enough. Portsmouth, fighting for everything with tremendous backing from their magnificent supporters, must've started to wonder what all the fuss over this Watford side has been about.

It was a scrappy, messy game. Igoe shot over twice from distance; Kennedy whipped a free kick through a crowded penalty area but into Petterson's arms; Johnson curled wide. Chances were non-existent, entertainment likewise.

As always on such occasions, we waited for half-time in the hope of some GT inspiration in the dressing room. But half-time came, half-time went and there was no improvement.

Indeed, for a spell after the break, there was a very real possibility that Portsmouth might snatch the lead. Playing by far the more relaxed and coherent football, albeit without overly endangering Alec Chamberlain's goal, their attacks romped towards the Rookery as the home side disintegrated. Igoe had the best opening - finding that a mis-hit drive had arrived at his feet, he turned and shuffled a shot with unnecessary haste straight at Chamberlain. That was their chance. Hillier blasted a drive a few yards wide a couple of minutes later, then Vlachos headed back across the face of goal from a corner.

With half an hour remaining, Graham Taylor, like most of us, had seen more than enough. Portsmouth were the better side, we were cruisin' for a bruisin'. The triple substitution (Tommy Mooney for Ben Iroha; Tony Daley returning for Nick Wright; Alexandre Bonnot making his debut for Allan Smart, with Peter Kennedy moving forward to partner Gifton Noel-Williams) was brave and at least partly successful - that is, it arrested the decline and gave Watford some measure of control. Victory still eluded us, but we didn't slip to the defeat that was looking imminent.

As it happens, that victory didn't elude us by very much. Within seconds of his arrival, Daley sent a cross skipping through the six yard box. Petterson got a touch to push it away from Noel-Williams but it ran out to Johnson - with defenders converging on him, he did the only thing he could and blasted it goalwards from five yards, only to see his shot blocked by a combination of opponents and team-mate. That was our chance.

After that, we attacked but without building up any significant momentum. Portsmouth got men behind the ball and simply swarmed around us, giving us no time to think and forcing us into resorting to stock moves. If this is to be an emerging pattern of the second half of the season, the glorious flowing football that we've loved so much may become a memory.

There were still chances to win it, mind. Petterson tipped a Noel-Williams shot over (probably unnecessarily, in fact); Mooney twice failed to hit the target with free headers from corners; Daley and Bonnot both had shots blocked in a late break. And Richard Johnson managed to clear the roof of the Vic Road stand with a mis-cued attempt....

Let's not get all doom 'n' gloom about it, for heaven's sake. It's one match...and we didn't even lose it. But, as a pointer to the rest of the campaign, it highlighted some key issues:

  • When we play teams from the wrong end of the table, they're going to be scrapping like anything. We're going to have to break them down. That's never easy.

  • So far we've hugely exceeded expectations and we've done it by playing superbly. It stands to reason that, if we're to sustain our challenge, we can't afford sub-standard performances but we can't afford average performances either.

  • The teams that get promoted win matches like this; the teams that get relegated lose matches like this.

  • As fans, it's about time we paid the team back a little. In very stark contrast to those who travelled up from the coast, the home stands were full of "we're here to be entertained" silence. That's not good enough.

  • Whatever comes next, it's been lovely....

See also: Pompey Web