A long way to go
By Pete Fincham
Molineux. Always an away trip that is a ghastly prospect from the very day the fixtures are released, and not since 1983 have Watford come away with three points. We should have done last season, but managed to throw away two points having been two goals up. But at least the Goals For column reflected that throughout last season, we were scoring goals. It has now been nearly three hundred minutes since our last goal away from home in competitive league football, and since the Vialli revolution first came up against professional opposition against QPR in late July, six games away from home have yielded just one solitary consolation goal, against Inter Milan.
But it would be unfair to launch criticism on the various striking partnerships that have pulled on their shirts so far this term. For this game showed various individuals to be simply not putting in the sort of effort that their reputations and wages have, up until now, demanded.
With the enforced changes at right (Blondeau with a hamstring injury) and left backs (Robinson suspended), Neil Cox was humbly welcomed back into the fold after his summer of enforced exile from the rest of the team. Nielsen provided the cover at left back, much to the surprise of the away contingent.
However, after a positive start, in which Watford certainly had most of the possession and looked far more threatening than their hosts, Galli was outpaced by Cedric Roussel, whose low cross was turned into his net by the otherwise excellent Vega.
The challenge was laid down, but not for the first time Watford failed to respond with the necessary grit. As the first half drifted ever on towards half time, the few chances that were created failed to test Oakes in the Wolves goal. Smith's diving header from Wooter's near post cross was perhaps the best effort, and for all Gayle's strength at holding up the ball and looking to turn, the Wolves defence simply closed Watford's players down with speed and strength throughout the game. On countless occasions, with their backs to goal, the Watford strikers cried out for someone, anyone, to make a run from midfield. But with the exception of the lively Wooter, no help was forthcoming.
Hughes was woeful, and was fortunate enough to last until the hour mark. His workrate was dreadful, his two shots, although both speculative, failed to trouble Oakes, and for a player with a history of Premiership football, one wonders whether it is arrogance rather than inability that is disturbing his game. One hopes it is the former, as if the much-maligned Clint Easton had put in a performance such as that, groups of hooded vigilantes would be heading for his birth county of Essex to find and maim the parents responsible.
Before the half ended, Wooter found himself the centre of some controversy, as the referee Roger Furnandiz, not for the last time in the match, was to find himself unpopular with Watford's fans. To my mind, Wooter clearly dived when looking for a free kick some forty yards out from goal. Some might argue that it was the sort of sandwich that Page and Robinson made for Dean Saunders at Bradford two years ago that gained the Welsh striker a penalty, and that for every penalty there will be the alter-interpretation that it was a dive. However, sat just behind the darting Dutchman, I felt he had tried to cheat.
The second half, while not as forgettable as the first, still did not provide a clear goal scoring opportunity. Crosses occasionally went beyond the first Wolves defender, but when they did, the massed ranks of golden shirts were there to clear. The introduction of GNW did little to stop the forwards standing with their backs to goal, shadowing the ball under the assumption that there would be support from the midfield. Vernazza started to make more of a contribution to the proceedings with a few runs that showed intent, but it was Wooter, constantly booed by the home fans, who provided the only real worthwhile salvos into the Wolves half. One of the few occasions of note was a thumping shot was just over the bar from twenty-five yards. Vega at the back was magnificent in his control of the defence, especially as Galli seems so lacking in magnificence. My initial fears were that, despite his abilities as a reader of the game and a legendary team player, his age and subsequent lack of speed would prove insurmountable handicaps to the defence. I have not seen anything that is to the contrary.
After Nielsen had suffered the indignity of having his testicles trodden on, the game was drifting into injury time when the final incident of note occurred. Just in front of the away fans, and in no position of danger, Vernazza was certainly late in tackling Proudlock. However, his challenge appeared to make little contact with the Wolves man who had seemingly anticipated the challenge and appeared to jump above the sliding tackle from the Watford midfielder. Furnandiz appeared to see different, and produced a straight red card to compound the misery of the Watford fans, not for the first time on their travels this season.
Evidently, there is still a very long way to go.