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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 19/10/04, 7.45pm
Something like fire
By Ben Gross

Peter Cook was arguably one of the funniest people ever to appear on TV or radio. In his 1970s recordings with Dudley Moore he picks random topics and then indulges his own wandering mind by ranting about them until he feels he has made a reasonable point. It was always nonsense, of course, but that didn't matter because he always got the result he wanted, which was usually to make Moore laugh. Beset on all sides by his own world of mayhem, he once said, in what for him amounted to a moment of clarity, "I've been trying to lay my hands on some idea that'll revolutionise the world in some way. Something like fire."

There was a good atmosphere inside Vicarage Road on Tuesday night. Watford were once invincible 'under lights'. The sense of anticipation was raised a notch or too higher than it might normally be on a Tuesday game. Was tonight going to be one of those nights?

The game kicked off on time, with Watford playing in their favoured first half direction towards the Vicarage Road end. Some neat passes set the early tone for the match with the Golden Boys pressing forward and commanding the pitch in a manner that has been missing in recent home games. We looked hungry.

On four minutes, Sunderland's first attack arrived in the form of a free kick won about twenty-five yards from the goal. It was blasted straight at the wall and from the clearance up field, Watford won their first corner. As the heavens opened for the first of many showers, Ardley delivered an out-swinging floater which sailed past the Watford attack (including an expectant Helguson at the far post) to safety.

On seven minutes, Ardley broke free down the left flank and threaded a great ball past his man to Webber. Webber anticipated and ran on to it but the ball gathered pace on the wet surface and the last defender stretched to put it out for a throw in.

The Watford pressure continued, and Ashley Young found himself in space on the edge of the box and lashed a cross/shot across the box. It caught Webber with plenty of pace and in his efforts to control the ball, he rather fortuitously laid the ball off to Ardley in space ten yards out. Ardley made no mistake and hit the back of the net with a clean half volley. 1-0 to the Golden Boys. And deservedly so.

The Watford pressure continued and on twelve minutes, Webber found himself in a familiar race with the last defender for the ball. Arriving at the same time, the defender tackled well and cleared to safety. Meantime, Mick McCarthy was bellowing some instructions in 'northern' at his defence which could be heard from the Rookery. Something about ferrets, I think. Perhaps that's his nickname for his centre half. I've always had a bit of an irrational hatred of Mick McCarthy: not due to his northern heritage, of course, but rather because of the nonsense he filled Connolly's head with while manager of Ireland. Following his advice, Connolly left Watford. Two seasons later, we were in the Premiership, and Connolly was left plying his trade in the Dutch Second Division. Shame.

Anyway, on the quarter hour, Ardley made progress down the left where he was having a lot of success and his cross was met by the on-rushing Chambers, who slid to beat his man and in the same move got a shot away. Unfortunately it went straight at Poom, who held with ease.

Sunderland finally had another decent attack and having passed their way through midfield and defence lashed the ball across Lee's goal mouth, only for Dyche to hook away from one yard out. Shortly after, on twenty-two mins, Watford won a free kick their own half. Cox took it early but his pass was intercepted still in Watford's half. It was quickly distributed up front for a one-on-one with Lee. Lee rushed out accordingly but the finish was good and the ball was dinked over him and into the open net. 1-1. Stupid goal to concede at any time, but given the positive way Watford had been playing and the dominance of the game up until now, it really should have been 2-0, and not 1-1.

The jitters set in and Darlington's headed clearance spun backwards. Stewart collected the ball on the edge of the box and turned neatly to fire a low shot which fortunately was straight at Lee, who gathered easily. Sunderland were now going for the kill. They won a free kick on the edge of the box. It needed to be a good 'up and down' to score direct as there was no way round a well organised wall. The shot duly came over the wall and Lee tipped it over his crossbar to safety. Watford regained possession and Ardley crossed to Young who scuffed his shot when a pass to Webber was the better option.

On thirty-four minutes, Sunderland pressed again and a good shot cannoned into Dyche with Lee already committed to his left. The ball ricocheted back off Dyche straight to Lee with all the pace luckily taken off it. The remainder of the half was all Sunderland. Arca weaved his way passed Cox and Chambers and sent a cross in which was just too deep for Stewart. Moments later, a harmless back pass through to Lee suddenly became dangerous when he slipped just as he was kicking. He recovered to lift the ball out for a throw-in. The resulting attack was broken up by Lee steaming off his line to collect at the feet of Stewart, bringing him to the ground with quite a bang. Confidence restored. Half time.

From the kick-off, both Helguson and Webber were sent clean through and onside. The referee, to be fair, got most things right during the game, but this time he was wrong when he accepted the linesman's flag for offside. This was a silly mistake on a potential goal scoring opportunity. Poor. See me.

The Rookery was in good voice as Watford began to dominate again. On fifty-three, Helguson charged down a ball he had no right to get and this raised the volume even more. Webber turned his man inside out and curled a fierce shot across goal, but it fizzed a yard or two wide of the post. Helguson was now in charge again and looked hungry for goals, or blood, or something. Whatever it was he was leading from the front and we looked good for it.

With Watford so on top, Ray Lewington took off Ashley Young and sent on Bruce Dyer. Ardley went over to right midfield and Helguson to left midfield. 4-4-2 still. Jermaine Darlington broke away and sent a cross in. It was headed clear but only as far as Webber who again found enough space to cross. It was deep and came to nothing, apart from the sight of Ardley bellowing at Helguson to take up the other post. Winning the ball at left back, Darlington again set off on a solo effort which took him to twenty-five yards from goal. Willed on by the crowd he wound up a shot, but pulled it wide. Welcome, all the same.

McCarthy took Stewart off on sixty-nine minutes and sent on Michael Bridges. Blink. Rub eyes. Bridges on a football pitch. I must be watching FIFA 2000 on the Playstation.

The last twenty minutes were quite feisty, with both teams tackling hard and Watford retaining the lion's share of possession despite having no clear cut chances. Blizzard was replaced by Bouazza, and Oaks came on for the Mackems. Still Watford had control, in what had become a very one sided spell. On eighty-one minutes, the impressive Ardley again broke down the right and forced a corner which came to nothing. A few minutes later, Ardley was in possession again and released Bruce Dyer who squared to Webber who laid it off to Mahon. Mahon hit it goalwards but it crashed off Webber past the post.

On eighty-five minutes, the ref reached for his book for the first time. Darlington got the yellow for something he said to the linesman. Watford won another corner from which Helguson took a clatter. Watford won yet another corner and with the pressure mounting Sunderland looked likely to crack. Ardley's delivery was met firmly by Helguson, whose headed effort took a slight deflection round the post for another corner. The ball ran to Webber out on the left who beat his man, mesmerised everyone in the process and lashed a great shot which produced an equally great reaction save from the very long Poom who dived full length to his left to push the ball away.

Time was running out. Watford won a free kick half way in the Sunderland half. Sunderland's back line gambled on moving up to get an offside decision. No offside was given though, but the free kick was too hefty and ran harmlessly through to Poom. Game over, 1-1.

This was a game we really should have won. We were better than the opposition and but for one mistake, we would have taken all three points. It was yet another solid display, again confirming that we are good enough for this league. It's time to start killing off these teams and turn our superiority, however marginal, into three points. Having been dragged back from a winning position against Derby on Saturday, we again only managed one point when coming from a strong position. It was a great match to watch though, with the type of passionate football that makes being a fan worthwhile. We were on fire for most of the match. Well, it was something like fire....