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03/04: Reports:

Pre-Season Friendly, 29/07/03
Northampton Town 0(0)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Chamberlain, Doyley, Dyche, Gayle, J Smith, Johnson, Mahon, Hand, Fisken, Dyer, Cook
Subs: Cox (for Gayle, 45), Hyde (for Johnson, 45), Helguson (for Dyer, 45), Young for Fisken (75), Hitchcock
Scorer: Cook

The Sign Game
By Dave Messenger

A couple of good friends of mine have a game they play at every Watford away fixture. It's called The Signs Game. The rules are fairly simple and it falls upon me to pass them on to you, the dear and valued reader of this fine website.

Basically, all you need to do is cast your eyes around the advertising hoardings that are dotted about whichever ground you find yourself at. The northern grounds generally provide the best sport, as you can pretty much guarantee that mingling happily with the famous names like Carlsberg and Nationwide will be gems like "BARTON'S BALM CAKES, BRADFORD'S FINEST" or "MARINER'S FISH RESTAURANT - THE FINEST HADDOCK IN CLEETHORPES". That's not to say that other grounds don't get a look in. At Portman Road, keep those eyes peeled for "TUTTLE'S TRACTORS - TOUGH AND RELIABLE ALL DAY LONG".

Once you have found a gem, turn to your fellow competitor and challenge them to find it. You have to give them a clue, of course. The conversation should go something like this...

Person A - "You know what, I really fancy getting a few balm cakes before we go home. Any ideas where to go?"

Person B then hunts out the relevant hoarding. For extra points, read out any extra info provided. For instance...

Person B - "You should try 'BARTONS BALM CAKES'. They're 'BRADFORD'S FINEST', I understand."

Person B then finds a hoarding and so it carries on. I think you get the gist of it.

Northampton v Watford match report, you say? Well...I've just pretty much covered the whole shooting match. Between myself, Patch and these two friends we found "GILLIANS BLINDS", "MIDLAND SCAFFOLDING SUPPLIES", "DEKI SIGN SOLUTIONS" and a whole host of Northampton's finest establishments. It seems you can judge a game by how long you play the Signs Game for and last night's game was a shocker.

I'm being harsh. The weather was not exactly conducive to a free flowing game of football as the sort of persistent drizzle that you'd normally expect to see in December fell steadily. This rendered tackling, running, shooting and anything else exciting as something that twenty-two professional footballers weren't really up for with a new season around the corner. Who wants to break a leg in a game like this? This was pre-season fare all the way and you made your own entertainment.

That's not to say that there weren't any decent displays from the 'Orns. Generally, Watford were neat and tidy in possession, as were the hosts. Gavin Mahon, having impressed as an auxiliary left back on Saturday, gave a good account of himself in the midfield holding role vacated by Ardley, who sat in the stands sporting a vicious looking cut over his eye. Jack Smith was decent enough to suggest he may get the nod for the Coventry game, Bruce Dyer showed his strength and touch again on a couple of occasions and Micah Hyde looked busy and industrious in the second half.

If you're wondering why I've not mentioned any chances, there's a good reason. In case you hadn't already worked it out, there were hardly any. A couple of alert pieces of goalkeeping from Alec Chamberlain denied Richards, the Cobbler's new striker, who also went close with a shot from the edge of the box. For Watford, Cook went close twice in the first half, Gayle headed against the bar from a corner while Jamie Hand had obviously decided to have a bet with someone that he could hit the evening's worst shot. I can recall three efforts from the young midfielder, one sailed into the car park, another almost hit the corner flag and a third was scuffed wide.

In fact, the only decent bit of football all night was Watford's goal, which was well out of keeping with anything else we saw. Doyley found some space on the right and whipped in a superb cross that picked out Lee Cook, who directed his header past the despairing dive of Thompson, the home side's keeper. And that was your lot. Dudfield ought to have done better with a last minute chance to equalise but the game had long since petered out and he spooned it over the bar.

At about this time, the shining head of Gary McAllister, manager of first day opponents Coventry City, was spotted as he left the ground. I can't think he learnt much about what will face his side a week on Saturday, apart from the fact that the new yellow and black kit looks very nice, not to mention the fact that "BARRATTS SNOOKER CLUB was EASY TO JOIN"....

Tea party
By Felix Posner

Tuesday was my Gran's 94th Birthday. A tea was laid on with the rather ancient, but well received, East End Concert Group performing some of the "old favourites". There were cakes and Chelsea rolls but sadly no prawn sandwiches as it was a kosher do.

As the band performed, I got to thinking about how parties change as you get older. From the raging teenage "we have the house, so let's trash it" party, through the more sedate "parties with nibbles" of the thirties and then the tea parties of our twilight years. Due to the fact that all the music was from thirty years before I was born, my line of thought naturally meandered towards our next pre-season friendly at Sixfields. I wondered, if a pre-season friendly were a party, what sort would it be? Certainly not a raging bash nor even a casual nibble and a chat type of an occasion. No, it was certainly a tea party. Players politely passing to each other. No-one tackling too hard (except, of course, Robbo and Jamie Hand) for fear of injuring themselves and a pace that would just have worked up a sweat if only it had not been raining.

So as soon as I could, I escaped one crony do and headed off up the M1 for another. But one that was of course a far more exciting prospect.

Due to a series of clearly pre-ordained events, we did not get to the ground until thirty minuets after kick-off. As soon as I walked in (having done a lap of the ground trying to find the one entrance and then having to go all the way back to buy a ticket first) I could tell that not a lot had happened. Even by pre-season standards things were quiet. In that last quarter of an hour the only note-worthy thing was a momentary lapse of understanding between Alec and Dyche, letting in the Northampton number ten who rather lamely shot over.

Half-time came as a relief and a chance for some regrouping. Three substitutions were made and things livened up a little bit. Cox, Hyde and Helguson came on for Gayle, Johnno and Smith. We mustered a couple of good chances that saw both Hand and Cook blast the ball high and wide. Then a great through ball from Mahon released Fisken down the right, he was bearing down on goal with only one defender to beat. Rather than take him on he frustratingly cut it back to the supporting Doyley. He hooked in a cross from the corner of the box that Gibbsy would've been proud of. The cross was right on the head of Cook who neatly nodded the ball in.

Northampton huffed and puffed and looked quite tidy on the ball but our defence held out pretty comfortably apart from a couple of late hairy moments. A mix-up between Alec and Cox let in Richards who, with the goal begging, lobbed the ball onto the roof of the net. He also had a good shot which skidded just passed Alec's right hand post (clearly, he had it covered).

Ashley Young replaced Cook for the last ten minutes and looked lively. When he ran at defenders, they looked very uncomfortable. Then, in the last minute, Alec saved well to his left to stop a shot from the number ten, who had somehow wriggled through our defensive wall.

I would like to thank my mate Nav for driving me to the ground (albeit one and a half hours later than planned), Russell for saving us a whole row of seats (three would have been fine) and my Gran for sparing me the first half hour of the match....