Bringing the fans back
By Carl Story
Another large crowd gathered for the latest rollercoaster game of this memorable season. Clarke Carlisle was back at the heart of defence in place of Jay DeMerit. The American has been playing out of his skin in recent weeks so it was a surprise not to see him on the pitch. He was at fault for Cardiff's goal last week so that could have been the reason he dropped to the bench. Harsh, anyway.
Unusually, it was the Hornets' opposition who started the brighter as some of the Watford players seemed to want too much time on the ball. In the early exchanges Tommy Smith found space intelligently and put in a number of dangerous crosses. At the other end, the pace of Ashley Young and Hameur Bouazza was causing problems for the Derby defence: Young missed a great chance to open the scoring with a glancing header.
A worrying gap was appearing between our back line and the midfield and it was becoming an uncomfortable first half. After twenty minutes, a neat ball played Lisbie in behind the defence but Jordan Stewart got back into a good position to clear the danger. Unfortunately a mere brush from the striker was enough to put Jordan off his stride and Lisbie trickled the ball past Ben Foster and off the post. Some appealed for a foul but Jordan should have done better. The Derby team all ran to their caretaker manager, ex-Hatter Terry Westley, who joined them on the pitch to celebrate. With seventy minutes of Watford attacking to come, this was certainly premature.
The players' heads never dropped and there was a feeling that it was just a matter of time before the equaliser came. When it did it was another magnificent piece of finishing by Marlon King. Despite the close attentions of two or three Derby players, King controlled a high ball, got it out of his feet and drilled it low in the bottom corner from the edge of the box. The former Forest man probably enjoyed that, in front of the away fans who had been giving him some stick. Chances were created at both ends with Bouazza wasting the best opportunity for the Hornets.
The half-time break saw Aidy Boothroyd introduce Al Bangura to close the problematic area between defence and midfield with Bouazza coming off. Bouazza has impressed in the absence of Darius Henderson but he will probably be quick, French and back on the bench when Darius returns. (Or quick, French and in the treatment room, although that doesn't rhyme - Ed.) There's no doubt we miss the aerial presence. Derby decided that a point was enough for them and proceeded to time waste to theatrical extremes. The worst culprit was goalkeeper Lee Camp who took an age with every kick and crumbled to the ground at the slightest touch. The inevitable yellow card arrived when Camp stopped to re-spot a goal kick for about the ninth time. Marlon should have put the Hornets in front when he turned superbly in the box and thrashed a shot against the pots. Malkay and Clarke pushed forward whenever they could as Watford piled more pressure on the Derby goal. Macca came on for Chris Eagles in the hope that he might provide the killer ball for the winner. Derby brought on Peschisolido to waste a bit more time.
With more gaps at the back, there was concern of a break away winner. That nightmare happened with five minutes to go, when Lloyd Doyley made what was probably his first mistake of 2006. He mistimed a bouncing ball which fell for Barnes to lash home a shot past Foster. In seasons gone by it would just have been one of those days but there was no way this Watford team would leave it at that. When the fourth official displayed six minutes of injury time, the expectation of the crowd lifted and it was in the second of those six minutes that Al Bangura scored his first goal for the club. We know about Al's defensive qualities but we didn't know he could shoot as well. He took control of the ball on the edge of the box and half-volleyed a shot into the corner of the net. As the Derby players desperately claimed a hand ball, the Hornets fans celebrated another late goal and Al whipped off his shirt in excitement. A booking followed but I doubt that would have spoiled the moment too much.
There were even chances after this for both teams but the game ended with a point gained. With the pressure we created it was the least we deserved and could prove valuable come May. The fans will keep coming back with games like this.