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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 9/9/01
Into focus
By Martin Blanc

I don't have a fast internet connection. I have a traditional plastic modem, 56k (I think), which on the evolutionary scale of the virtual world places me somewhere just up ahead of the mastodons (though not the ones in the BBC series - they were pretty funky). Anyway, when images appear on my monitor, it takes a good while for them to come into anything like focus. They're blurry, then gradually they sharpen, become less pixellated, better defined. It mostly reminds me of my fast-developing children, whose personalities and most recently vocabularies are becoming sharper and more recognisable on a daily basis. And then, watching another wildly variable display from our new heroes, the same process seemed to be unfolding on the pitch.

This started as a dour and slow, rather than patient, run-out which, given our two weeks off, might have been understandable. As for those whose time off had been a bit longer, Stephen Glass - who, in common with Peter Kennedy, seems only to have a right leg for show - did some very nice things with his left foot; and Gary Fisken, on his full debut, looked a bit nervous and a bit too easily bundled off the ball. So we prodded and poked, except for Nordin Wooter, who skittered and scurried, and we just about withstood the time-honoured free gifts that seem to appear on the opposition's plate in and around our penalty area early on in games.

And for forty minutes you could see the half-timers on ITV Digital having sod-all to talk about, and using this as an excuse to slag us all as much as they dared without drawing attention to their own attendance at the game in the first place.

But then the equally time-honoured Moronic Refereeing Decision fell from the sky, or rather, stumbled from the Wimbledon area. And for a change it wasn't something against Watford; in fact, we couldn't believe our luck that the card wasn't yellow, as it arguably could have been. Although we didn't score from the resulting free kick, suddenly the shape of the opposition, the pitch, the game, clicked more into place for the Hornets' liking. And it was very pleasing indeed to watch a move started by Wooter's vehement tackle in the middle of our half finished off with him crisply sliding in from ten yards after Tommy Smith crossed from the left. Who'd have thought? Nordin scoring. Give the little fellow a hug. Yes, even you, Micah. Good Lord, everyone's going on about how great it is that the England team now play as if they're all mates. It takes a 5-1 stuffing to realise that? Always seemed to be at the forefront of problems in our tailspin last season - somehow a bit of friendship glue wouldn't go amiss at the Vic. Does wonders, doesn't it?

Whatever, it put a lovely complexion on the half-time break, matched by the scary rouge of the sky over Watford as the second half began. I've switched sides this term, what with having traded in the season ticket, taking an occasional bay in the East Stand, and despite the setting sun glaring right in the eyes, wish I'd sat there before: the feeling is of being much closer to the game than in the concrete jungle of the Upper Rous. Don't know how a whacking great new stand is going to replicate it, however pretty it looks on paper. (If only Wimbledon's off-field problems were as small.)

Then Nordin took up where he left off and distributed a lovely cross onto Marcus Gayle's sweet spot (professionally speaking) for our second goal. We were in focus. Micah Hyde was deft - yes, yes, every-****ing-where. Fisken was calmer and stronger (later on even more so, after he put the ball in the net from a beautiful through-ball when marginally offside). Glass was still smooth, and for workrate alone ought to keep Hughes out for another game or three. Cox was distributing crossfield and up the flanks like he'd never been replaced by an old French guy. Galli continued to show his game-reading strengths. And Robbo took the opportunity of joining more attacks, finally getting in the right place, mathematically, for the deflection of the ball off his shins to angle into the bottom corner of the net for our third goal. Oh what the heck, let's say he scored the thing. By then it was party time; and the list of chances we continued to make, if not take, for the rest of the game was a great measure of four potential improvement as a squad. We didn't stop pushing. Not just the Dutch Terrier. All of us. 3-0 up last season and we'd have been lucky to win 3-2. This time, we held it. Of course, for that we have to thank an upright, and the short greedy bastard that is David Connolly (no, that chant doesn't mean we're all small-minded, backward-looking idiots - a chorus of "Are you watching, Luton Town?" when you're about to kick off at Maine Road means that). But also more discipline, aggression, focus. We thoroughly earned the margin of victory, having been assisted, let's say, in the victory itself.

What does it prove? Nothing, unless the new image we are being sold of this team, this club's whole future, keeps on sharpening as it has perhaps begun to do. It's not a given, it's not instinctive like a child's acquisition of words and skills - it takes work, teamwork, and support from the rest of us.

Because we won't always be playing eleven against ten. So a faster connection wouldn't hurt either.