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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 01/11/05, 7.45pm
Watford
versus
Queens Park Rangers
 
I don't know what I'm doing
By Adrian Barrett

Supporting Watford I can be so blinkered that I probably wouldn't recognise myself and my own behaviour if I were to have the dubious pleasure of watching myself at a game. When Wigan were awarded their oh-so-unfair, blatantly wrong and shocking penalty last Tuesday, I stood up and spent what seemed like ten minutes berating the referee, linesman and all. Aidy Boothroyd thought it was probably the correct decision but he can't get everything right, can he?

On the other hand, going to a football match where you don't actually care who wins or loses can be a strange but somehow enlightening experience. On Wednesday night, I was able to take in Hearts v Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League thanks to a very kind customer. I really didn't care who won but was very aware of the passionate support of some of the Jambos fans, totally biased, every decision against their team put down to bad refereeing and all the white-shirted officials. The white shirts, incidentally, looked bizarre and it took a while to not confuse the light blue attired Kilmarnock players with the referee who should have been wearing black or yellow. I spent some of a dull game studying one of the "assistant referees" (apparently) who looked like a cross between the Bash Street Kids "Plug" and "Fatty", from the Beano. The linesman did very little wrong, although one offside given against Hearts was probably incorrect but almost understandable because of his bad starting position due to a previous attack at the other end. None of the Hearts fans would have seen this and why would they? The linesman was wrong and the crowd wanted blood. But the Hearts fans gave him stick for everything he did, good or bad, just like we all do.

At tonight's game against QPR, I was very conscious of a lot of the reaction around me, especially as I wasn't as vocal tonight as I usually am, due to writing notes for this report and because I am now going to become a crowd studier. Oh yes.

For the game itself, both sides had one change to their starting line ups from Saturday's wins. Watford replaced Darius Henderson, who was on the bench (meaning "bunch of red seats in front of the shack"), with Anthony McNamee. McNamee had substituted Henderson against Wolves. Rangers included former Villa striker Stefan Moore in place of Paul Furlong who was dismissed at Derby on Saturday for kicking Derby's Wigan loanee Emerson Thome where it hurts most.

Tonight's game had no major controversial incidents but the referee, who had a good game, still had a round of being told he did not know what he was doing. After a few minutes of shadow boxing and testing the water, Santos had the first attempt of note in the fifth minute when the Rangers midfielder shot well wide from just outside the area. Watford's first attack fizzled out due to lack of support for King after Young had supplied a great pass. Anthony McNamee, who has blossomed into a potent threat under our Aidy, produced some trademark jinking trickery and forced a fine tip over from the visitor's keeper Simon Royce. McNamee has always had the skill but has been given some time in the team to use that talent to great effect.

Gavin Mahon provided us with our first possible dodgy decision from the resultant corner when it appeared he had been pushed on the right of the area when about to receive Young's cross. The referee was about three feet away, closer than every occupant of the Rookery who appealed for a cast iron penalty, but I am able to move on now and despite the fact I was desperately trying to write in my very own unique shorthand using the letter recogniser on my PDA phone thingy, I decided to convince myself that he was probably right. It will not last.

Talking of using my PDA...the letter recogniser is a great invention that allows you to write proper letters into what is basically a handheld computer, except when you are trying to do it quickly. "Klng shit?crass ovar" really meant something but I am not sure what exactly.

I digress, Watford were now beginning to take control of this game, a control they never really relinquished. The next few minutes provided some unproductive Watford pressure. Young ran onto an excellent Devlin through ball but the break was again thwarted through lack of support and King was unable to make up the ground.

King had an eleventh minute effort disallowed for offside after receiving Young's flick and rounding Royce. QPR then forced what was a rare first half corner but Chambers was able to break with purpose and pace and he fed King, who played in Young down the Watford right but Young's cross was poor and easily dealt with by the QPR defence.

Nineteen minutes in, the referee then gave the QPR fans reason to moan but Shittu's challenge on Young was a clear foul (of course) and young Ashley fired the resultant free kick into the wall from the right hand edge of the D. Matthew Spring forced another corner when his shot was put wide to complete a lively opening twenty minutes.

Jay Demerit was taken out of the first team fray after a superb performance at Cardiff but he and Carlisle look much more together since re-establishing their partnership and Jay looks to have seen off the immediate threat of Malky Mackay to his place. Demerit had reason to be grateful when he seemed to lack his usual authority and chested the ball down without any real conviction, allowing Gallen to latch onto his indecision, but Gallen's composure also let him down and he shot tamely wide of Ben Foster's right hand post.

Referee Martin Atkinson annoyed the Watford crowd further by refusing to award a foul for a strong challenge by Shittu on Young after twenty-six minutes. Shittu is an uncompromising centre back and any contact with him seems to result in the opponent on the deck, especially if you are a skinny as our Ash or Ant. Fortunately for Young and McNamee, the rules have stopped over-physical play which allows slighter players to thrive over less skilful ones. It was not a foul and that is final. See? I can change.

Some of Watford's approach play was great to watch and the Rookery was beginning to find its voice, especially after King produced one of his magical first touches and a drag back, turning to face goal and shooting in what seemed one smooth and sublime movement, only for Royce to save well again pushing over from eight yards.

As the half continued, one felt that Watford may suffer the same fate Wolves had on Saturday by not converting any of the number of chances being created. King showed his, somewhat rarer, other side by firing a wild cross-cum-shot over after Rangers' Gareth Ainsworth's mistake had allowed McNamee to supply the Watford striker. Finally, in the thirty-eighth minute, Watford scored. Devlin provided a deep cross to McNamee, who in turn sent another cross to the back post where Young headed down, the Rangers defence fatally allowed the ball to bounce and Spring pounced to head into the bottom right hand corner. It was no more than was deserved as Watford were far and away the better side. All over the pitch Watford were better, accentuated by a superb Lloyd Doyley tackle on the Watford left, covering for Chambers, on Dean Sturridge.

Nygaard and Cook replaced Santos and Ainsworth for Rangers after the break. Cook got what is likely to be his customary welcome from the Rookery and was booed every time he touched the ball. I am not quite sure why he was a short (okay), greedy (eh?), bastard (I have no idea). He moved to QPR because he is a QPR fan and they wanted him; money was not the issue, surely. Anyway, he plays for them and they were rubbish. At least the booing didn't inspire him to do great things, although he did whip some decent crosses in which Paul Furlong would have lapped up. Had he actually been on the pitch, that is.

The second period started scrappily and in the first meaningful attack of the half, Chambers did well to clear after a little goalmouth mel´e. Two shots in quick succession from Spring and Young were saved and blocked respectively, before QPR had their brightest spell of the game. Sturridge would count himself unfortunate to not score when clean through but Foster reacted well and just managed to deflect the ball over the crossbar to the audible relief of the Rookery.

McNamee produced some more tricks and supplied Young but he could only head tamely at Royce despite being well placed. QPR were now limited to speculative efforts, none less than Bignot's wild effort from thirty yards which cleared the bar comfortably.

Mahon fed Young and will be complaining to the officials as Ashley took an air shot and didn't mark it on his card. The Rangers fans enjoyed it though. Lloyd Doyley was back in action just after the hour after Ben Foster failed to punch a cross but Doyley cleared.

The play was now stuttering between ends, QPR seemed to have worked out the Watford system and Cook put in a couple of dangerous balls, Bignot played Sturridge through and again the home fans were relieved to see the flag raised for offside.

QPR's will to change the game in their favour was well and truly snuffed out in the sixty-ninth minute, though. A long Doyley throw from the right found Spring who in turn found McNamee in acres of space on the left hand edge of the area; the young winger took the ball on a couple of paces before finishing clinically under the despairing dive from Royce who was left exposed by the absent Rangers defence.

Watford went close to increasing the lead only two minutes later but Royce was quick to snuff out the danger after Chambers had played Young in. Gavin Mahon seems to have learnt a long throw technique and seems to take the long throws from the Watford left; in the seventy-second minute, one of these throws led to a corner from which Mahon himself shot over after a scramble in the area.

Richard Langley replaced Stefan Moore for Rangers on seventy-three minutes and his most telling contribution came just two minutes later when he fouled McNamee on the left hand side. From the resultant free kick, Ashley Young played one of those horrible-to-deal-with crosses towards the right hand side of the goal, and as has happened so much this season in games I've seen, no-one touched the ball and it nestled nicely into the corner of Royce's net. 3-0 and no more than the Hornets deserved.

Watford now entered silly mode. Ben Foster tried to wait for the ball to enter the penalty area but QPR pressure forced him to clear towards Chambers on the left, Chambers lost out and eventually a Sturridge cross fell to Nygaard who put the ball wide. Later on, a move found McNamee on the left and rather than look for a fourth goal Watford tried to protect the 3-0 lead seriously - and the ball ended up with Foster.

Bangura replaced Spring on eighty-three minutes; Spring was excellent throughout and his partnership with Mahon seems to blossom with every game, they really controlled the midfield and with the excellent movement all round were able to get the Hornets moving forward at will. But like Saturday, Watford failed to keep a clean sheet which took the shine off a fine and convincing win; why can't they play the last few minutes like they have played the rest of the game? Why Watford allowed Cook's corner to be headed home by Shittu in the last few seconds is anyone's guess. It was unnecessary and Foster's unhappy reaction was perfectly justified. I was on my feet ranting at the players for being so stupid...I told you it wouldn't last....

So what has my short-lived tranquillity taught me? I am quite convinced the referees and linesmen would have more reason to sing "you don't know what you're doing" (or at least "you don't know what the rules are") to the fans, as in all honesty they probably get more decisions right than we give them credit for. We want referees officials and players to be superhuman and they quite plainly are not. You can't help but love the game, though, especially when you are up to third in the league....