By Jon Marks
This fixture has been eagerly anticipated in our household ever since it was announced back in May. Firstly, it represents a 'home' game in terms of travel for me and secondly, it stirs up some 'friendly' rivalry as I married a Wycombe fan! Therefore, I observed Saturday's game from a superb seat above the halfway line with my wife and another friend who is a Wycombe season-ticket holder.
Saturday's game took place at the Causeway Stadium. No, not a new ground, but a re-named ground - an event that has stirred the locals in these parts if the local press is to be believed. Wycombe Wanderers are no different to any lower league outfit - cash is at a premium. They are not in any danger due to bad financial management - in fact, I believe they are one of the better-run clubs off the field - but they have no money to spend in the transfer market and need to attract more sponsors and supporters. So at the beginning of the summer they made the naming rights of the Adams Park stadium available for sponsorship along with all the stands.
A local firm called Causeway Technologies came along and offered a handy little sum but insisted on dropping the Adams Park name, as they wanted exclusivity on the name. It apparently took at least three Board meetings for the Wycombe Board to agree to it as 'Adams' represents a family that has a ninety-five year association with the Wanderers. An opinion poll stated that 95% of fans were against the name change but the Club and the Company have been at pains to point out how important the deal is to the survival of the club.
It is an interesting thought, given our own circumstances, as to how we would all react if we were asked to drop the Vicarage Road name from our identity. How important is the name of the stadium and how easy would it be to accept an investment dependent on losing the Vicarage Road name? A debate for another time, I guess!
The weather on Saturday meant that you felt as if you should be going to Lords or Wimbledon rather than a football match, which means the start of the season cannot be far around the corner. However, much more significantly, Saturday saw the first appearance in the new Watford shirt of Danny Webber, as a Watford player. How good does that sound?!
The Hornets continued with the new 4-3-3 formation and although Ray Lewington said beforehand the game would not give any clues to the starting line-up for the Coventry game, one could argue that only Micah Hyde, the injured Jimmy Davis and suspension bound Paul Robinson were missing from the starting eleven.
Gavin Mahon again played at left-back; Cox and Gayle were re-united in the centre of defence with Lloyd Doyley at right-back. Neal Ardley was the holding midfield player with Johnno on the right side and Paolo Vernazza looking a little uncomfortable on the left. Webber was the front man with Heidar Helguson on the left side and Bruce Dyer on the right.
Wycombe gave Watford an early wake-up call and took the lead after three minutes. A deep cross from the dangerous Jermaine McSporran on the right found Darren Currie beyond the six yard box at the far post. After a series of dummies, he created that crucial half yard of space and curled a precise shot in off the far post.
Danny Webber looked lively and eager to impress. This was his first competitive match since February when he broke his leg for Man United Reserves. His first sight of goal came after ten minutes when Helguson did well on the left and drilled in a low cross which Webber couldn't quite connect with.
Wycombe continued to pose problems for the Hornets with on-loan striker Simon Patterson giving a good account of himself against Cox and Gayle. He gave Alec Chamberlain a problem when he challenged for a high ball which dropped for centre back Roger Johnson to fire wide from ten yards with the goal gaping.
Watford were finding a lot of room up front as Wycombe played a dangerously high line and Helguson sent Webber away on the left hand edge of the box. He cut inside the covering defender but the young Wycombe keeper made a good parrying save.
Midway through the half, Watford drew level. Webber caused problems on the left and wriggled away from a couple of challenges. His low cross was turned in at the near post by Bruce Dyer, who appears to have brought a healthy knack of goal-scoring with him back south and let's hope he can continue once the season begins. With Webber's pace and skill, Dyer's strength and pace, and Helguson's work-rate and heading ability, we have a front three to frighten opposition defences and we really could offer a serious goal threat if they hit it off.
A few minutes after the goal, Webber had another effort deflected over the bar for a corner after an Ardley free-kick fell to him.
Wycombe made a substitution soon after with right-back Danny Senda being replaced. He reacted by disappearing down the tunnel looking frustrated, a reaction which prompted Blues boss Lawrie Sanchez to march down the tunnel after him! Maybe not the brightest of moves from the full-back!
Chamberlain was forced into a save just before the break after a mistake in midfield from Vernazza enabled Richard Harris to break clear. Cox blocked his first effort but he was afforded the room for a second chance and attempted to curl the ball into the far post from the edge of the area, which was saved comfortably. Harris is an interesting player, quite quick and strong but maybe not with the best co-ordination. He does possess a long throw, which is anticipated by the home fans with fast clapping similar to that greets a long-jumper at the top of his run!
The last action of the first-half saw Wycombe threaten again as a Simpson free-kick was headed against the bar from centre-half Johnson with Chamberlain beaten.
Webber was replaced at half-time by Lee Cook, with Dyer moving into the middle. It was Wycombe who started the half a lot brighter though and Marcus Gayle had to react quickly after a bad Mahon back-pass gave Patterson a half-chance. McSporran had a shot from twenty yards well saved by Chamberlain and from the resultant corner, Helguson cleared with a good header that was rewarded with a goal-kick from the whistle happy official much to the irritation of the home fans and the obvious amusement of the Icelander.
Helguson and Dyer linked up well and nearly created a chance for Dyer but the keeper, playing only his third game first-team game, smothered well.
Eight minutes into the half and Watford fell behind again in bizarre circumstances. A Cox back-pass should not have given Chamberlain any problems. But rather than launch the ball up field he decided to put his foot on it and attempt to dribble past the on-rushing Patterson. He was muscled out of it and only succeeded in knocking the ball ten yards away straight to Currie who took great delight in firing into the unguarded net from twenty-five yards.
Wycombe continued to have the upper hand and Mapes forced another save from Chamberlain, substitute Lewis Cook fired over from close range and Johnson headed over from a corner.
A flurry of substitutions ensued which saw the introduction of Hand, Robbo and Fisken for Vernazza, Johnson and Mahon. A Fisken throw found Helguson in space who in turn played in Dyer. It was Watford's best chance of the half but he fired across the face of the goal and wide.
A pleasing move down the left hand side involving Robinson and Cook played in Jamie Hand, whose chipped cross to the far post was headed straight at the keeper by Helguson from a tight angle.
Helguson then had a goal disallowed after a tight offside decision, but the build-up play was again good to watch, and the understanding between Helguson and Dyer was encouraging.
The final action saw Helguson's appetite for chasing lost causes create a half-chance as he won the ball and chased it away down the right hand side. However, his cross couldn't quite pick out the yellow shirts that were arriving in the box.
The heat ensured the game finished slowly and in a first pre-season defeat for the Hornets. Not a bad thing at all and it was a good work-out. Wycombe certainly wanted to win which gave the game a competitive edge which was ideal a week before the start of the season. Wycombe were good value for the win on chances created and look a better bet than favourites for relegation from the Second Division.
As for Watford, time will tell, but with the forward options we have, a top ten finish with a flirtation with the play-off places isn't out of the question.
However, the bragging rights now sit firmly with my wife and my friend. We could do with a Cup draw against Wycombe this season for the opportunity to set the record straight!