"Lacing up the betting boots"
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 02/01/03
The Hornets put aside League matters this weekend when they travel to Third Division Macclesfield Town for the third round of the FA Cup. The Silkmen are presently 19th in the table and have a poor home record at their Moss Rose ground, being defeated in six of the twelve games so far. Of course all this means very little in the cup and the Cheshire side be will eager to make the fourth round, a feat not achieved in the club's history. For Watford on paper, it looks comfortable and the Boxing Day away draw at Wimbledon was encouraging. If nothing else it proved that if Ray Lewington and Terry Burton set the team a defensive task, the squad as a whole are up for it. Against the grain for a Watford team to employ spoiling tactics it may be, but I have long been in favour of this method away from home. Especially when, for the last couple of seasons, 90% of the teams coming to Vicarage Road have employed a defensive formation and said "break us down if you can". All credit to the management team, having recognised that the Hornets were on the whole unable to gain away points with a positive formation, a solution seems to have been found and bolstering up the midfield with defenders, as in the case of Paul Robinson, can only make it harder for the home side to hurt Watford.
Leicester City demonstrated just why they are second in the table with a confident, albeit somewhat physical win last weekend. The Foxes were helped by a fiercely disputed equaliser from Matt Elliott. The City centre back may have been in an onside position when he volleyed home from 10 yards, two other attackers, however, were in offside positions and the officials decided the players were not interfering with play! For a fleeting second one of the attackers blocked goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain's view and The Hornets had every right to complain and in fact, every right to show a replay of the goal on the big screen. This act may land The Hornets in trouble with the League, whose ruling is that contentious decisions shouldn't be replayed. Well, it was a goal, wasn't it?
Ex-Watford goalkeeper Espen Baardsen, having been released from his duties as reserve team reserve goalkeeper, now finds himself on the bench for Premiership highflyers Everton. Proving you never know what is around the corner in this life.
The 2-2 draw against league leaders Portsmouth highlighted the potential of this present Watford squad. Whereas the visitors had several players screaming "Premiership" very loudly, Nigel Quashie and Matt Taylor to name a couple, The Hornets' players, although collectively giving a sound performance, individually were below par, Hyde and Pennant aside. It all looks good for the second half of the season, if we can share the points with the league leaders with players missing through injury (Dyche), players finding their feet following injury (Gifton) and several players not quite clicking for one reason or another (Tommy Smith) the top six remains a possibility given that little bit of luck on the run in.
With the home form solid, no team will relish Vicarage Road as they did last term, a change of tactic away from home is a sound move at this stage in the campaign. I have said it before, and I know they will return to Division One next season, but West Bromich made the promised land with less in terms of ability than the present Watford squad. My betting boots are laced up for a top six spot.
Here's to it.
May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful new year.
20 YEARS AGO
In the charts:
Save Your Love by Rene and Renato
Football League Division One
Watford 2 Ipswich Town 1
Sherwood, Rice, Bolton, Sims, Rostron, Callaghan, Taylor, Jackett, Jobson, Jenkins, Barnes.
Scorers: Jenkins and Taylor
Reproduced courtesy of Gazette Newspapers