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Nationwide Division One, 26/8/00
Never mind the quality...
By Rory Jiwani

My viewpoint of this fixture probably differs from the other efforts on BSaD since I was fortunate enough to be sat with the home fans at the end to the left of the Watford supporters. Long story, but one of my good friends is a Dons fan and had arranged some tickets for us. This didn't go completely according to plan as Selhurst Park is the most difficult place to buy tickets for. And you have to go to the petrol station if you want pre-match grub as the Sainsburys next to the ground is conveniently shut before kick-off. But enough complaints about the venue....I trust the rest of the Hornets had an easier time of it.

The starting line-ups were a clear reflection of who had and who had not prepared themselves for a return to the Premiership. Watford, despite notable injuries, could still field a near full-strength side while Wimbledon were packed with youngsters who ('you can't win anything with kids') show promise but not much else. And they had that Welsh lump of lard otherwise known as Hartson who managed to get abuse from both sets of supporters in the course of the match.

The opening few minutes were messy to say the least bar fleeting moments of vision from Nielsen, looking a very shrewd signing by GT, and occasional brilliance from Smith. The home side could not string two passes together and, aside from one centre from Gayle which Hartson missed completely, were completely devoid of ideas. Their left-winger Morgan looked good running with the ball but forgot his defensive responsibilities. Nordin must have thought he had died and gone to heaven as on numerous occasions he had the whole of the right side to himself. Robbo was having similar success getting forward on the other flank. He did mar it though by performing his partypiece - a tackle which would make a Virgin train look punctual - and deservedly received a yellow card.

Anyway, there were a few chances for the lads. Palmer had a shot deflected wide and Cox had a free-kick tipped over by Davis (he used to play for L*ton too!) but somehow a goal-kick was awarded. We were behind that goal and it was no surprise to see the keeper grinning from ear to ear at the ref's decision. Then on thirty-five minutes, Smith controlled a Baardsen punt, rolled it back to Robbo whose cross was anticipated perfectly by Nielsen's run from midfield. I braced myself as his head beat the floundering Davis and felt mild anti-climax as the ball landed ten yards wide.

Watford were well on top now. It was all too much for one Dons supporter in the stand opposite me who tried to take on the Horns fans single-handed. Now, the South Londoners aren't known for their vociferous support but this guy was clearly on day release. 'Sit down, shut up' was the appropriate reply from the travelling army.

On the pitch, a long pass was expertly taken down by Smith. His ball found Mooney whose attempt to slide the ball home was met by the keeper's outstretched boot. Seconds later a clearance fell invitingly for Cox whose thunderous volley was palmed over by Davis. Even the ref spotted that one. Unfortunately in this period of superiority, our string puller Nielsen limped off to be replaced by Easton.

Half-time could not come soon enough for the home side and the second forty-five minutes saw the appearance of Jason Euell. One can only suspect that he was on the bench due to a falling out with the management as he made an immediate impact. He and Gayle linked well for Hartson to hammer the ball wide of the near post - a chance that any striker worth his salt should have tucked away. The overweight one did not endear himself to anyone this afternoon, consistently moaning when a cross or pass did not come straight to him (he doesn't like to run too much these days, bless him). I felt at home as the Dons fans started to boo him as well. When Ardley put in a low cross which most strikers would have wet dreams about, Hartson was still wandering about on the edge of the box.

The second half saw an effective rearguard action from the Horns. As always, Tommy Mooney epitomised the club spirit and he was everywhere, not least when he took the ball cleanly off Gayle in the area. And Darren Ward had a fine match dealing with Hartson who, despite my criticisms, is still a handful especially at holding the ball. As my mate Dave would say - John Hartson, Darren Ward, back pocket. On the hour, Ward was the last man and stopped Hartson dead in his tracks. Five minutes previously, Wooter was stretchered off but, on the plus side, Gifton came on to make his first appearance in months. The referee made him feel very welcome, penalising him every time he challenged for the ball.

On sixty-eight minutes, Watford had a lucky escape. Andersen's flick found Gayle whose header eluded Baardsen and moved ominously goalbound in slow-motion. The crowd fell silent and the gasped as the ball rolled off the post for Mooney to hack clear. It was the Dons who now looked more likely to take the three points. With time running down, Gayle burst down the left and was obviously fouled by Ward. Well, obvious to everyone except the ref who waved play on to the bewilderment of the players who, having stopped, pegged it to the corner flag where the ball had come to rest. The man in black had not had a hideous game until then, except his vendetta against Gifton, but that incredible decision did him no favours with the crowd.

Cox, looking assured going forward, fired into the side-netting with five minutes remaining but this was one of Watford's rare attacking forays. Foley could not repeat his heroics of last Saturday and made little impression on the game in place of Helguson. In injury time, the home side could have nicked it when Gayle got on the end of a through ball. Luckily, Baardsen spread himself well and saved with his legs.

So a 0-0 draw and on balance a fair result. Both sides had their fair share of possession and chances but neither had the luck nor quality to force a result, especially after Nielsen had gone off. Both goalkeepers were solid as were the defences on the whole. Not a game for the connoisseur but if you'd have said to GT he could have a 0-0 at Wimbledon after last season's horrors I think he would have taken it. Seven points from three games is a solid start and things look good for a fair stab at a return to the Premiership.