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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 20/03/06, 7.45pm
Young Starts, 1-3
By Asher Peters

Let's say you've baked someone a cake (I like fruit cake, in case you were thinking of doing so). You'll be really keen for them to enjoy it, and nervous that they won't; making a cake is always enjoyable but if it goes wrong and tastes horrible, it renders the experience entirely pointless. How great, then, if they love it.

But what if they tell their friends of your baking prowess? Pester you to make more cakes just as good? Even enter you for the village fair cake-baking contest? Suddenly making cakes is a pressure and not just a pleasure. More people are going to eat your cakes. Higher standards are going to be applied. You know you can make a cake your friend will enjoy, but now you'll have to find new tricks (icing? No marzipan please) and new styles to please and impress more people, some of whom will be cake-making experts themselves.

The cake is the Watford team. The local fair (not Premier, not a ship) is the Premiership. And yes, you are Adrian Boothroyd. You've rolled over a poor Southampton team, easily beating them despite not firing on all cylinders, and taking a fine three points away from home to keep up the charge at promotion. Doing very nicely in the current situation, but causing few sleepless nights in higher circles. Can you get the team to adapt its style and improve its consistency to make a worthy challenge in the league above, should that time come?

We settled into our seats in the corner of the great bowl of a ground (think Leicester's new one, but with the TV screens from Spurs, and less pleasingly-coloured seats) with some considerable expectation, and a decent, boisterous atmosphere from the away fans immediately transferred to the players. Instead of the wincingly-basic rugby style kick-off, we had the Marlon King charge; still basic but far more of a statement of intent. The striker made little headway but ruffled a few feathers, and our early momentum led to a goal within five minutes.

King's second attempt at a cross from the right hand side was desperately deflected away from Henderson by the horizontal Kenton, only for Gavin Mahon to swagger in like a school boy crossing the try-line unchallenged, and slide the ball into the far corner. A well deserved reward for the captain's recent form, and surely making for some decent pictures for the gaggle of photographers behind the goal; there were few at Southampton's end.

The 4-4-2 line-up employed here is arguably our strongest side, but we failed to capitalise and the game, whilst played at a frankly dangerous-looking pace, never threatened to become a goal-fest. Rasiak sliced well over from the edge of the box, and Young had one decent run, the blocked cross falling to Spring to fire just wide. Chaplow, a decent player with his career in the doldrums, shot well over following a Stewart mistake, and around me mutterings once again started against the left-back. Here, though, he had a decent game in a rock solid back four, and long may it continue. Not our greatest left back but a decent, versatile player. How well do we have to be doing not to have a cartoon boo-boy on our team?

It appeared that the local hosepipe ban had been taken a bit too far by the ground staff, as a bobbly pitch contributed to a largely inept first half by both sides. Highlights were few and far between and a relatively witty, if obviously refreshed, group of away fans towards the back of our stand concerned themselves with a verbal battle with the stewards to be allowed to stand, like the several thousand Southampton fans in the next block along. Finally the stewards gave up, just before half time, to be met with a chorus of 'Sit down if you love Watford' on their retreat. Henderson tried his best to offer more unconventional entertainment with repeated shirt changes, and blood from his early face wound continued to flow throughout the game.

On the half hour mark, former loanee Chris Baird tried his luck from distance but shot well over. It was just about their best shot, but Southampton did monopolise possession in this period and our midfield, particularly the still out-of-sorts Spring, were not in the game (soggy middle: more time in the oven, usually). However with DeMerit and Mackay in imperious form we simply did not need to be better at keeping them out, although Eagles may well have got away with a needless handball in our box during this period. Doyley also kept the useful-looking Surman from posing too much of a danger.

For the most part, we failed to slow the game and hold possession, hoisting it forward hopefully. King toiled up front, no lack of effort here but nothing going his way; nice to prove again we can win without him in form. Henderson, giving away far fewer fouls than usual in a promising showing, won many flick-ons only for his striking partner to be out of position. He had the last decent attempt of the half, a well struck volley on the turn that just failed to dip in time.

Withdrawing Chaplow at half-time, the home side brought on the burly Kenwyne Jones, who showed a decent touch as well as the expected aerial threat. Their early impetus was quickly noted by Mahon, who got away, unbooked, with a tremendous foul on the half way line in the first minute. Rasiak missed a free header from a corner, the ball emerging from his hair at just the wrong angle to waste a decent opportunity, and Darius did pretty much the same at the other end, only minus the hirsute style. Demerit picked up a harsh booking ten minutes into the half, but even by then their pressure on us was diminishing and the points looked safer by the minute. "Are you watching, Luton Town?" we sang, as ever, but I'd have preferred if they'd missed this one to be honest; we were often crude in our tactics and ceded possession too easily.

Young made his first run of the half around twenty minutes in, but his shot was deflected wide. We were failing to get our wide men on the ball often enough and indeed Chris Eagles spent more time covering back than attacking. It was no surprise when perennial sub Al Bangura replaced the loan winger, as we understandably looked to get some presence in midfield with a 4-5-1, King playing wide right. Immediately, a long Stewart free kick was bounced back into the box inadvertently by a defender, rendering pointless any offside appeals against King who slid the ball across for Henderson to tap in. Within five minutes the big striker had a brace, King heading Young's free kick back across for a looping finish that didn't need to look truly convincing as Southampton had kindly put all their defenders on the near post.

At 3-0, with the home stands rapidly emptying, there was absolute glee for the assembled away fans. We were playing largely poor football, and the midfield in particular was not firing, but a comfortable away win is not to be sniffed at. Here's the main point, then: you (you're Boothroyd, remember - keep up, please) are making perfectly good cakes right now. More than enough to keep the target audience happy. We'll need plenty more baking expertise than this latest effort showed to make the step up to village level, but I'm more than prepared to believe that you realise the need for more varied styles and ingredients when that challenge comes.

So it was that we had a late wobble, Foster frequently excelling in his back-up sweeper role, the home side catching him out just once only for the exemplary DeMerit to sprint back and clear Rasiak's weak shot off the line. In between their half-hearted attacks we sneaked in our best football of the game, as with ten minutes to go a long flowing move left King (yet again; funny how many chances he sets up even when off-form) to feed Henderson who put a simple hat-trick chance wide. Finally, after Foster had watched a decent effort bounce up and out off his crossbar, a suspiciously-offside looking Madsen headed home for the customary consolation.

I like cakes, and I like this Watford side. I know this performance was well short of the standard we'll need if promoted next year, and I'd be a little worried to see this team start a match there unchanged - but then, I thought that at the start of this season. We are doing all that's necessary. Bon appetit!