Thursday night excuses
By Jon Woolfe
As Marcus Gayle wisely pointed out in the week, he had not previously played
on a Thursday evening (and until five minutes from the end that remained the
case). Equally I can't recall going to a live match on a Thursday evening
Taking away my prejudice against all things to do with ITV Sport, it's not
really all that bad. You have the distinctive atmosphere of an evening
game. But it's far easier to explain away being half-asleep at work the next
morning. On a Friday morning, you can cover it by the excuse that it's
been a tough week, and nothing to with lengthy away trips and not getting to
bed until 2 am. It's harder to get away with this on a Wednesday morning and
also you only have to get thru' one more day until the weekend.
On the subject of excuses, both managers know that after a live TV game
that they are going to have a microphone thrust in their face thirty seconds after
the final whistle blows and must surely rehearse their excuses for a poor
performance. David Moyles had already complained that this was Preston's
third game in six days, and Luca could no doubt claim ring-rustiness after
eleven days without a game.
A brief look at the stats would give some encouragement to these excuses,
Preston dominating the first half and Watford coming back into the game in
the last twenty minutes. But really this wouldn't reflect the whole truth.
Not for the first time this season, there was confusion among the five hundred or
so Watford faithful when the line-up was announced. It appeared that Gifton
would be playing up-front on his own with support from Jermaine Pennant.
However it quickly became clear that no-one had communicated this to
Gifton as he spent most of the time hovering on the half-way line down the left
hand side. It was usually David Noble who was Watford's furthest player
The result as you might imagine was not a single shot on target in the
first half. There was some neat passing movements, but it was as though the
Preston groundsman had erected an invisible electric fence around the Preston
penalty area, so afraid were any of our players to enter it. Preston took
advantage of this and it became a question of when rather than if they
would break the deadlock. This was achieved by a sweetly struck thirty-five yard
shot from Alexander. You could criticise the abscence of any Watford
players in the immediate vicinity, but no complaints on the quality of the finish,
the power and accuracy giving Alec no chance.
The half finished with Watford hanging on and much sorting out to be done
in the dressing room at half-time.
Lucky Half-Time Chocolate - None. Friday evening is shopping night, so you
can't really expect to have anything left by Thursday evening (Preston
hot dogs were very nice though - correct temperature and choice of ketchup or
mustard - Beeton Rumford, take note).
The second half started off in the much the same manner, until some
inspiration from the bench. A welcome return from Lee Cook and a first
appearance for Wayne Brown following his loan arrival from Ipswich to
replace Allan Nielsen (not surprising, again Mr. Invisible) but more
surprisingly Lloyd Doyley. The fourth official took an age to sort out the
numbers on the board and Patrick Blondeau was already walking towards the
touchline before Doyley was replaced instead. After the initial concerns
over Doyley, he continues to improve and looks more assured with each game
About ten seconds after coming on, Brown in the left-back position
received a first touch and played a fifty yard ball perfectly into Gifton's path who
rounded the keeper and finished accurately, albeit a bit slowly , but the
ball just won the race over the goal-line ahead of the covering Preston
defenders. And so Wayne Brown whether he goes back to Ipswich in a few
weeks never to be seen again or displaces Robbo as our left-back for the next twelve
years will not be forgotten.
From then on, it was all Watford, but a winner would have been harsh on
Preston. The away end sprung into voice, helped by the discovery that we
had Allan Smart amongst our number. If you were cruel you would say that after
thumping his new team-mates and assorted hotel staff in Oldham he's got no
friends up there and nothing else to do on a Thursday evening, but the
fact that he sat with us and I would guess paid his fifteen quid like us has
certainly helped erase the memories in my mind of his disappointing final
few months as a Watford player. He also seemed highly embarrased that we'd
discovered him and started the old "Allan Smart is wonderful" chant.
The plus points on the evening were a point that at half-time we had
looked incapable of achieving. Lee Cook returned and immediately rekindled
glimpses of the player who briefly lit up the meaningless (at least on the pitch)
last few games of last season. Ramon Vega had another solid game at the
back and was probably our best player. Jermaine Pennant again looked dangerous,
but I've a nagging doubt that he must have spent too much time in Spain in
the company of Nordin Wooter. He runs straighter than Nordin but too often
beat three players and tried to beat a fourth rather than play the ball to
a better placed teammate.
On the downside, Blondeau again didn't perform and the invisible Allan
Nielsen transmitted some of his invisibilty to the rest of the midfield. The
referee was annoying - five Watford bookings in what wasn't a dirty game - but at
least his decisions didn't affect the result.
So never mind the excuses from Messrs Vialli and Moyles, the optimistic
statistician in me says that there is still over one third of the season
to go. The negative statistician in me says that although the Fat Lady isn't
singing yet, she's certainly bashing furiously on her calculator to see how
on earth we're going to get to the 74-77 points mark for
a play-off place.