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.