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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 25/09/04, 3.00pm
Cup versus league
By Ben Gross

At the beginning of last week, a small gathering of likeminded individuals took place in an office kitchen, deep in the City of London. In order to avoid raising suspicions of mutiny (or indeed workshy behaviour), the well-drilled routine of taking it in turns to boil and then empty the kettle several times over was taking place, all the while allowing the discussion to continue.

Non-work related discussions in my prison-camp of an office are looked upon as pre-mutinous behaviour - much as smoking a menthol cigarette when you are a young teenager is of course indicative of the fact that you are going to end up mainlining smack into your eyeballs with all the other 'menthol' kids.

I took my turn boiling and then emptying the kettle and in accordance with our own office laws, this was my time to listen, rather than to speak. It's always less interesting hearing other people's opinions on anything, but it's something to be endured in order to achieve the end goal of getting your point across.

"It's more important to win the cup game," embarked my usually well-balanced Reading supporting colleague. "It is unlikely that either of our teams are going to get promoted this season, and so we would be better off beating you in the cup and losing to you on Saturday rather than the other way round."

The now full kettle was taking an eternity to boil, and I was impatiently waiting to counter the argument with my version of priorities - primarily being that league survival (and therefore league points) is the most important thing, and that if Watford were to only win one of the two games, then I would rather have the three points on Saturday and kiss goodbye to the cup.

So. Saturday. Watford 0, Reading 1.

The weather was strange. It didn't know whether it wanted to rain or not. On fourteen minutes, Mr Webber didn't know whether he wanted to score or not, and throughout the match we never seemed to grasp whether we were playing at home or not.

Reading pressed, bullied and passed much better than us. Expecting a counter attacking game, we played our new and usually effective brand of football whereby we spring the offside trap with a fully loaded Danny Webber and we keep the middle of the park tight and compact with Mahon and Gunnarsson running the show in midfield.

Reading had done their homework, though. Their organisation throughout was impressive. Their gingers, Messrs Kitson and Sidwell, were highly effective and both had the knack of being in the right place at the right time. After our recent successful run, we have that knack too, and with plenty of goalscoring chances, we were very unlucky not to score. The first half an hour was boring with both teams sticking to their own script and neither displaying the ability to adapt to the situation in front of them.

A couple of lively tackles and a suspect refereeing decision finally got the players and the crowd going, and then half-time came just when the Andy (call me Andrew) Cole red mist was about to descend. Shame. Wouldn't have minded seeing Gunnarsson throw a few haymakers.

The second half wasn't too much to cheer about either. It was a lifeless affair punctuated only by a well-crafted header from Sidwell which broke the deadlock. This was of course celebrated enthusiastically by the Reading fans with that annoying arm dance that we've come to hate in recent seasons. Reading were confined to one goal and we showed enough industry over the ninety minutes to suggest that we can continue to be a much more solid unit this season when compared to last.

The well-versed arguments in favour of Bruce Dyer seeing a bit more first team action were springing up all over the Rookery and surely they have their merits. But scratching around for substitution suggestions or a change of teamsheet is so easy to do. And so pointless. Whoever our 'best' pairing of strikers are, they will probably emerge in a week's worth of training watched and assessed by the coaching staff. They might emerge as a result of my osmosis-like projections down into the technical area, but this remains unlikely.

There's nothing to be alarmed about here. We are not suddenly an 'away' team and we are not suddenly incapable of winning at home. Reading came to the Vic second in the league and played a measured game of football for ninety minutes. It was close, but they deserved it. Perhaps the team have to learn to adapt and to express themselves a little more, but the organisation and the discipline must come first, and the boys have made up a lot of ground in that respect.

So, anyway. Back to work and the matter of cup versus league. It turns out that neither of us in the office got the result we wanted. In fact, we both got dealt the card that the other guy was hoping for. Strangely enough, though, I've changed my viewpoint. Being in the next round of the cup is a great thing for Watford. Yes, yes, I'm now convinced he was right. His vision was good. The cup is king. I'll make sure he's first on 'kettle' duty at our next office 'meeting'. Not because I've got anything in particular to say, I'll just be drinking from the cup....