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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 04/03/06, 3.00pm
Derby County
A game of one half
By Stuart Campbell

The Derby game as I saw it was one of the more forgettable games in this entertaining season of no little excitement and surprise. But only for the football which I actually witnessed. The rest was weirdly memorable.

For the first time ever that I can remember in over half a century of going to games, I had to leave a match long before the conclusion. A family party in London beckoned - and as it was partly to celebrate the rather dubious milestone of me reaching the age of the bus pass, I could hardly turn up after early guests arrived. So I left as late as I dared, fifteen minutes or so into the second half. A strange experience as it meant asking a steward to open the gates to let me scuttle off, scarf flapping, into a deserted Occupation Road, ears straining to try and translate the crowd noises into meaningful action.

Apart from another golden Marlon King goal, the first half was a messy, muted affair. Watford looked disjointed without big Doris to flick on, hold up and hold off. The central midfield seemed bent on discovering every possible way to pass to anyone not wearing a yellow shirt. Spring had a particularly wayward forty-five minutes, showing how much his normally perceptive runs and passes have contributed to the team's success. The skipper, who has been magnificently solid of late, caught the same disease which stood out rather, as big Gav is never a man to hide just because he's wearing the wrong boots (probably little Macker's).

The defence, mysteriously missing DeMerit, frankly struggled and made Derby look better than they had any right to. It almost seemed as if Mackay, Carlisle and Doyley had made a pact not to play better than Stewart ("poor guy - we can't keep showing him up"). And when Foster starts hoofing the ball towards his manager rather than his team mates, you sort of know it's going to be one of those days.

Finally in my car and listening to a desperately crackly Three Counties commentary, nothing much seemed to have changed. Derby, time wasting at every opportunity, had obviously worked out that they had put Watford off their game and could go home with something in the bag. For some reason, the dismal radio reception became worse as my car's revs increased, so the drive home entailed slipping into top gear at the earliest opportunity and coasting in neutral whenever I could. Happily the road was quiet, so my rather odd driving technique didn't cause any major incidents.

Arriving home, the game still stumbling on, there was another mad dash to find a radio that could pick up the commentary whilst frantically changing into party gear and putting a necessary pre-party lining in my stomach in the shape of a coffee and hot cross bun. As the only home radio which vaguely passed muster was my ancient Walkman, the whole process became a bizarre, nightmarish physical exercise. Ever tried putting on a shirt whilst wearing headphones, holding onto a Walkman and keeping a particularly sticky bun in your mouth?

In the midst of all this palaver Derby scored. Bummer. Time to put the Walkman down and leave Neil Price's predictable comments to drift unheard into the ether.

My mobile bleeped. Laurence, still at the game, was texting progress. I decided to concentrate on lacing shoes and finding the after shave. Dressed and reasonably presentable I reluctantly returned to Three Counties for confirmation of the final score. Hey, we had a ref who didn't let cynical time wasting go unpunished; six minutes of extra time! And I found a rather contorted Walkman/earphone/ head position which, if I made no sudden movements, was picking up reception reasonably well. Game on.

Of course we scored. As we do these days. The entirely unlikely Al Bangura doing the honours.

Doris will be back for Reading. Hope will rekindle. Let's hope Derby and Cardiff were a blip, because surely we can't get away with being below par at the league leader's place. And as for the next time at the Vic, I'll be there for the full ninety minutes. Couldn't cope with another pantomime like Saturday.

By the way, the party was wonderful.