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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 06/08/05, 3.00pm
Preston North End
Too early for humble pie
By Paul Perkins

Only seven months after my first ever match report, I sat down in my regular East Stand seat to watch a Watford team with only one player from the Liverpool away cup match in the starting line up (DeMerit). Whilst on the subject of our "old boys", I worked out before the match that the six Watford players who started today had a grand total of 119 first team starts between them; Lloyd himself played in over half of these matches and Bangura only one, of course. This then was going to be quite a surreal experience and one where the programme was going to be more necessary than usual.

Going into the match in an upbeat and positive frame of mind, I allowed myself the luxury of agreeing with a WML poster who predicted an opening 1-1 draw. Of course, those more intelligent than me have been reading several soccer papers recently advocating a playoff position for Preston and therefore the match ended pretty much as expected. Three of our more experienced players put in creditable performances, with Young in particular working his socks off and McNamee up to his expected second half substitution putting in many trademark crosses. Demerit performed okay but was horribly positioned for Preston's equaliser.

Arriving at the ground, I read a new sign in East Stand kiosk from the manager of Shire catering proudly announcing that two colourings (unfamiliar with me) were absent from his pies that I assume meant that we were to be especially pleased with our purchase. This got me thinking if our manager was going to be congratulated for including certain ingredients in our side (stick with me here, it does gel in a minute). Throwing Carlisle straight in to the side before even having a chance to meet his fellow defenders (let alone play with them) was always going to be a risky strategy and my first half thoughts were that Stewart and Carlisle had absolutely no understanding whatsoever; this will obviously improve with time but I suppose Aidy had little choice but to play them as this is one position where we are dreadfully inexperienced and exposed.

A nasty challenge by Davidson on Young in the opening few minutes saw a yellow card which hinted that it was going to be a typically physical encounter between our two sides and this was followed shortly after by an excellent save by Ben Foster (one of five players making their first team debut) from Cresswell. Our first goal of the campaign was an excellently worked goal by Young that saw Doyley go on a decoy run on the overlap resulting in a Preston defender tracking him and falling over in the process. This gave Ashley the chance to hit a superb cross that was met by Darius Henderson's head...1-0.

Preston were kicked into gear after this and matched our opening pace, Nugent volleying over the bar in the tenth minute and becoming a threat throughout the half. Bangura gave away a free kick after nineteenth minute which resulted in McKenna shooting straight at Foster who claimed comfortably and this began a spell of Preston pressure which resulted in a move down the right wing with Nugent shooting from our penalty area through the legs of DeMerit which left Foster with no sight of the ball and, as a result, his weight was on the other foot as the shot went to his right.

Any further Watford attacks in this half were comfortably contained, especially by Youl Mawene who commanded his box well with a series of good blocks and headers (especially from Young). Other notable incidents included a Jordan Stewart clearance off the goal line from a Cresswell header on the half hour and we again allowed Cresswell to get a cross in completely unchallenged from a solo move that started from the halfway line. The final Preston move of the half had Dickson Etuhu (often described as Preston's Viera) running at goal, easily knocking Stewart off the ball (fairly in the ref's opinion) and, instead of crossing, going straight for goal with a fierce shot that gave Foster no chance.

2-1 at half time, with time left to see if this inexperienced team would let their heads drop or go on to an unexpected, surprise victory. Four goals at half-time from the Watford branch of our sponsors gave a glimmer of hope and at the least the Rookery were able to see five goals at their end from men in yellow!

Watford, yet again, had the most lively start and within the first five minutes Young had flicked the ball to King whose shot from inside the six yard box went wide of the post. The first Watford card was shown almost inevitably to Al Bangura whose only previous start involved him surprisingly winning a physical battle with the Hammers' Marlon Harewood. Bangura was a handful all match and the referee held up five fingers to him after his sliding tackle on Etuhu to tell him that four previous offences had been taken into consideration. Our stalwart of sixty-four games (and City 'Orns sponsored player for three years running), Lloyd Doyley, was then seen having a word with Bangura telling him to calm down, after his brief chat with the referee.

An incident in the fifty-seventh minute started a dreadful fifteen minute spell for the referee who didn't seem to want to give the home team any benefit of the doubt. A very innocuous challenge by Young saw him being spoken to by Mr Williamson and two minutes later he found himself in the book for verbal abuse after daring to disagree with a free kick awarded against us for another rather tame tackle, this time by Marlon King. On the hour we saw Chambers replacing Macca and, to allow him his defensive spot, Stewart was moved to midfield alongside Bangura. Nugent, who was carrying an injury, was soon replaced by Agyemang and the final Preston substitution saw the aggressive Brian O'Neil replaced by their loanee from Manchester United, David Jones.

These changes saw Preston start to dominate midfield for a spell and with it came some aggression culminating in Mawene's booking for bringing down Ashley Young who really only had the goalie to beat. Another day and another ref would have shown a red, acknowledging the "last man" positioning of Young before he was felled. Unfortunately, his free kick went well wide of the goal.

With twelve minutes to go, Aidy threw his last dice and brought on Bouazza to replace Stewart. Although the match was pretty much over as a spectacle by then, we did finish with a little flurry with Doyley crossing to Henderson in the eighty-first minute but the weak shot was easily saved. The last five minutes saw two efforts from either side: firstly, Bouazza had a free header close to goal from a Doyley throw and, in injury time, Davidson crossed again from the right wing for McKenna to have a free shot from inside the box.

So, a reasonable start and a scoreline which would not have surprised most of the home fans or the travelling contingent. Their defenders kept King and Henderson from having many decent chances, both sides in the middle cancelled each other out and with a slightly better referee, we may have had as many free kicks as the opposition.

Finally, can anyone remember if we have ever had a loanee being made captain on his debut...or any team come to that?

Any potential humble pie eaters can put their spoons away now for a few weeks now. You won't need them just yet but I remain upbeat - at least until Christmas!