By James Hewitt
Northwood. I arrived with much anticipation as this was the first time I had seen Watford in action since the wholesale squad changes. I rolled up to the club house to be met with a great picture: many Watford fans enjoying a drink outside. It was a shame the weather didn't match with the skies becoming increasingly overcast. The spirits were not dampened though and when I entered the ground 1,500 fans made for a good atmosphere.
While the tannoy announcer was reading out the teams, another fan was looking over my shoulder trying to grasp (like myself) what our line-up was and who exactly was on the bench. As the teams filtered out of the tunnel to a good applause, I walked to my viewing spot and passed Mr Simpson along the way. He looks like everyone's favourite grandad, a real Werther's Original.
The game kicked off to quite a lively start with possession mostly with Watford. A Bangura shot cleared the crossbar and Marlon King sent an effort wide. The new man from Spain, Sietes, was looking cultured and displayed a marked preference for the angled, driven ball. We also got a taste of how the Spanish pass it back to the keeper: he hammered the ball back to Richard Lee to give the fans their first opportunity for an 'ole'. Watford were keen to spread the play wide down the flanks to Young and McNamee, with Sietes and Macca combining particularly well. Sietes seemed to be getting a lot of the ball and brought some flair to the game - well, as much as you'd expect from a thirty-one year old Spanish full back.
The game then went through a relatively quiet period with a corner that developed into nothing and Toumani Diagouraga (Tiggy - it's easier) working well with Macca who put a cross into the keeper's arms. The Northwood provided some laughs as the ball nearly bounced over his head, which would have gifted Bouazza an easy tap in. Later, he had some fun when he and a defender played 'sticky in the middle' with Ashley Young (who still looks like a thirteen year old with sparrow legs as do a few others in our youthful side).
Northwood had a tame free kick easily held by Lee. Bouazza had a shot saved from a Young cross. More crosses came in from both flanks to no avail. King and Bouazza each had shots held by the keeper who, by now, did not seem to be enjoying the bombardment.
We were piling on the pressure especially out wide but I couldn't help thinking we needed to do more with it; especially with the league kicking off in a few days. With twenty minutes gone, Tiggy found Bouazza who dithered in front of goal and the shot was easily saved. Sietes got caught in possession near our own box and DeMerit had to save his bacon (in Division Two we most certainly would have been punished). Ashley Young had a shot on the turn well pushed away by the keeper for a corner. This was taken short and Macca's subsequent cross was deep, needing a defender's touch away from the sharp looking Marlon King.
A rare piece of possession for Northwood came and went when they squandered the chance to break away. Then Young got a couple of crosses in with one blocked and the other earning a corner. That was delivered but King headed over under pressure. As the game ticked on, the crosses and width were still much in evidence, but I did wonder when we would ever score. Then, at last, we got the breakthrough as Bouazza broke down the right hand side and delivered a good cross for King to head home. He may have got a slight deflection judging by the keeper's reaction but I doubt it would have made much difference.
The attacks were still coming thick and fast with Macca and Young causing problems, but the crossing was becoming inconsistent and at times disappointing. James Chambers picked up a knock and was replaced by trialist Eddie Ouon. Northwood managed a weak half chance, which was comfortably held by Lee. A Young cross found the head of Bouazza to force good save from the keeper.
You could sense the half tailing off to nothing in fitting surroundings: one end and a side of the ground were confined by the local cemetery. What with the wind picking up and the sky getting blacker, it was especially nice. Having said that, a good thing about non-league grounds is you can tell how much communication is going on; Jay DeMerit and Lloyd Doyley were particularly noisy.
Northwood had a free kick on the half way line which was pumped long but there was a towering Jay DeMerit to head clear with no concern for his new American hair cut. Bouazza fired weakly at the keeper again and then, on the stroke of half time Doyley clipped a pass down the line which King raced onto. A strong persistent surge took him into the area where the keeper met him; to no avail, King got the break and tapped home.
Two-nil looked a bit better as the half time whistle came. I visited the refreshment van which had a very long queue and just about made it back in time for kick off. Surprisingly there were not many changes: only Junior for the less than sharp Bouazza and Jordan Stewart coming in at centre back for Ouon (who, remember, had only been on for ten minutes).
The first few minutes of the second half was more of the same: crosses and corners but no end product. There was a neat 1-2 between Junior and King but no end product from the former. Then after eight minutes we witnessed a truly diabolical piece of defending between Jay DeMerit and another Watford player (possibly Jordan Stewart). The two were exchanging unnecessary passes around our own area, one went astray and Northwood's Gavin Hart nicked the ball and slotted home. I imagined sitting in the Rookery as everyone puts elbows on knees, rests head in hands, sighs and shakes their collective head.
Fortunately, any Northwood hopes were extinguished by a super goal from Macca. King retrieved a low deep cross from Sietes and knocked it back to Macca who, on the corner of the area, teased the defender and curled it sublimely into the far top corner after being encouraged by King who shouted "go on Macca, go at him".
There followed a period of play where both sides had a couple of crosses or free kicks which were easily cleared. Then Watford made a couple of changes, as the combative Tiggy was replaced by Dom Blizzard and the lively Bangura by youngster Ryan Gilligan. The next meaningful piece of action was a well-deserved hat-trick goal from a delighted Marlon King. A ball over the top released Junior who nodded on; it got chipped cross to King who had lost his man at the far post and a cushioned volley was enough.
Eddie Ouon then came back on the pitch after a disappearing act (he must have been behind me in the queue for the burger van). Sietes was replaced with Ouon slotting in at centre back and Stewart going to left back. For a while it all got a bit heated as Gilligan ploughed into the back of a Northwood player quite unnecessarily. Then Ashley Young was kicked in the ankles and decided to square up to the guy who was considerably taller and probably about six stone heavier. A few minutes later Bouazza came back on (he must have been at the end of the queue) King was replaced and received a generous applause.
We extended our lead after a deep corner was collected by Young, who performed some tricks and dinked a cross for Junior to bury a simple header from six yards out. Another goal came a couple of minutes later as Young crossed again for Bouazza whose shot was saved again, leaving Blizzard to stab home from one yard out.
It was clear that our fitness was far superior to Northwood's and the game was taking its toll on the non-league side. Even so, when Macca tried to take on a man he was stopped in his tracks by a truly non-league tackle. Junior received the same treatment, although this was more of a 'welcome to the real world, mate.'
We came forward in waves as Gilligan burst through like a young Allan Nielsen but a poor finish let him down. Macca crossed for a defender to get away with an air shot and Bouazza put yet another effort off target. Young could have shot but sent in a cross which was cleared out to Junior who blazed into the cemetry from twelve yards. The final position of the shot suited it really, grim! Bouazza missed twice in two minutes, once trying to recreate Macca's goal but putting it wide, (he was unlucky to be fair) but then after Blizzard squared across he missed a simple tap in. You could almost see the cartoon thought bubble, "what have I got to do to score?" Check where the goal is, I'd say.
A period of play passed with the two sides boringly swapping possession and my pen took a rest as I listened in on Graham Simpson talking about his first match in 1959. He remembers that team but not the side of five years ago!
Junior received the ball into feet, showed the fans a "samba" style turn and looked up to see a clearly offside Bouazza begging for it. Then, with a few minutes left, there was relief more than joy for Bouazza as he was released by Gilligan. He broke the offside trap and coolly slotted past the keeper. Bouazza wheeled away expecting to see his team mates celebrating with him but they had retreated back to our half, probably thinking "about bloody time too!" On the stroke of full time Stewart's clipped cross found the head of Gilligan who planted his header just over.
So a final score of 7-1. A good overall performance with Doyley and DeMerit looking solid at the back and Marlon King very sharp up front. With good service he could be a prolific goalscorer. Macca was up to his usual tricks and Tiggy showed a lot of potential.
It was a pleasing performance, with one of Mr. Simpson's chums offering, "Some holes need plugging but good overall." I think Jimmy and Vince may be off to B&Q soon. Later, as I walked back down the ground behind Mr. Simpson, I heard him say, "We need two or three more players and hopefully we'll get 'em".