Worthy champions or spoilt brats?
Report by Kate Holmes
Although Southampton reserves away is always a must see fixture for those of us who are exiled here, the match was given added spice by the chance to see Nathan Lowndes for the first time. In fact his performance was really of far more interest than the result. So how good is he? Well on the evidence of last night's performance he's none too bad. He's tallish, ginger hair, looks a bit like Paul Scholes (or Iwan Roberts or John Hartson depending on your point of view). A couple of times he got in useful shots from difficult positions, and forced Grobbelaar to make a save each time. One of them was from outside the box and on his left foot which is a good sign - we need someone who'll have a go. A few reasonable little touches and dummies as well, one of which led to our equaliser. On the more negative side I don't recall him winning much in the air (although to be fair their central defenders played well) and he did look a bit awkward at times. Still he's young and hopefully he'll get a bit stronger. He kicked out at one of their players at one stage, so if he does make the first team I shouldn't wonder if he picks up the odd booking. So no change there then. He's at least as good as Beadle anyway, but I don't see him getting too much action in the near future as long as two from Moralee, Mooney and Phillips are available. One for the future perhaps.
Anyway the ground was fairly good, one small stand ran along part of the pitch. The bogs and the tea are both better than at Vicarage Road, and the police don't beat up our players. Due to the injury crisis, which must be well into its third year by now, most of the players aren't in our squad and are just there to make up the numbers. Despite that we played ok, definitely deserved the draw and perhaps a win.
We went ahead in the first half, Chris Johnson curling in a free kick when everyone was expecting the cross. We weren't ahead for long though, their goal coming direct from a corner, when their lad jumped a bit higher than our defenders. Just on the stroke of half-time they equalised with a goal that came from quite a good passing move, although our defence was a bit static.
We came back at them though and played well in the second half. Our goal came from a cross from the left, Lowndesey managed to knock it (possibly via the defender) to Peters, who slotted it in from about 8 metres. If anything we played better afterwards, and might have nicked it, but frankly who cares?
We defended pretty well by and large against a team that had scored nine goals in its previous two home games, fact fans. Wilkerson looked a bit shaky at times but pulled of a couple of good saves. He's a bit dodgy on crosses though, I'm glad we've got Cherry.
We nearly punished them
Report by Ian Grant
Premiership champions, eh? Without the, erm, charismatic inspiration of Dalglish, Blackburn Rovers have been exposed as utter cack. Expensive, aristocratic cack, but cack nonetheless. Their European Cup adventures have revealled a team without class - clueless, English battle-hard-and-you'll-get-a-result football at its worst. They've been an unholy mess in the league too. Let's face it, I fancied our chances.
We haven't exactly reinvented "total football" either, but we're a side that's capable of coming out of its shell at any time. Maybe it'll happen at Portsmouth, eh? Only joking (oh yes, hilarious), we raised our game for this one and deserved some reward for our efforts. You could have said we made Blackburn look ordinary, were it not for the fact that they ARE ordinary. You'd expect the champions to stamp their class on a match against lower division opposition. They didn't and we nearly punished them for it.
The first half was unremarkable, if moderately entertaining, stuff. If you'd taken the large crowd away, it could have been a run-of-the-mill First Division game. We worked tirelessly, with Steve Palmer having his best game in a Watford shirt and making up for the usual absences in midfield. Tommy Mooney recovered from a nightmare on Saturday to return to his best - bombing up and down the left wing like a madman, frequently filling in for Bazeley who was dragged all over the pitch in the process of man-marking Stuart Ripley. On one occasion, Tommy made up for an ill-considered clearance with a superb tackle on Warhurst in the six yard box. God knows what he was doing there, bless him.
Blackburn were restricted to long-range shots, none of which troubled Kevin Miller. Not a lot of goalmouth action, then, until Blackburn defender Ian Pearce, who's got a dreadful (but expensive!) beard, decided to liven things up just before half-time. Hit by a bizarre brainstorm, Pearce passed the ball to Kevin Phillips on the edge of the box. With just Flowers to beat, Kev took his time, retained his composure and clipped the ball over the advancing keeper. Ten thousand pounds worth of pure potential, that's our Kev. Vic Road went mental - even the loyal supporters who wondered where Mo Johnston had gone - and we went into the break ecstatic.
We nearly had 'em. Blackburn were still digesting their half-time cucumber sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, of course - crusts are so very vulgar, don't you think?) when we hit them with a series of corners. We really had them on the ropes. Our brilliantly inventive corner routines appeared to catch Rovers off-guard - clearly the idea of a cross swung over the six yard box was totally unexpected (have they never played Arsenal?). First, Millen's header was tipped over by Flowers, then his shot was cleared off the line. Finally, Flowers somehow managed to get to Moralee's glancing header to turn it round the post. Had any one of those close-calls gone in, I think we might have been making room for another entry in the "Famous Victories" section.
Blackburn were off the hook and they knew it. Egged on by their massive and vocal support (sarcasm), they dominated the rest of the game. We defended heroically but couldn't stop their assault. Ripley hit the bar with what was either a brilliant peice of opportunism or a wayward cross - knowing Ripley, I'd go for the cross. Shortly afterwards he hit the bar again with what was definitely a wayward cross. Ripley is a classic British winger - lots of effort, pure determination, no skill, woeful crossing - and he typifies Blackburn Rovers.
They hit the post as the ball rebounded from an outstanding Miller save at the near post but Shearer equalised soon after, thumping it home with Miller stranded. That took the wind out of our sails and it was no surprise when Newell scored with a close range header - ten minutes to go and we wouldn't recover. Flowers saved a Mooney header late on but there was no way back for us.
A classic defeat-with-honour cup tie. Certain players - Lavin, Bazeley, Palmer, Mooney - set a standard we'll expect to see more often; others - Holdsworth, Millen, Moralee - proved that their recent form has been worthy of a higher level. I think most of us realise that this is a strong Watford squad and this test against top class(ish) opposition will only encourage that belief. If ever there was proof that it's our job to get behind the team and get them up where they belong, this was it. Let's start at Portsmouth.
As for Blackburn, they're in a right state. A one-man team if ever I saw one. Shearer's a class player - he's also an arrogant git with an ego the size of Jupiter - but you can't build a team from individuals, no matter how expensive. It's looking more and more as if they won the title by default, while other sides like Liverpool and Newcastle were still building. Put it this way - think of Blackburn forwards and you think of Shearer, Ripley, Sutton, Newell; think of Newcastle forwards and you think of Ferdinand, Ginola, Beardsley, Gillespie...I know who I'd rather be watching, and I know who's going to win the championship this time. If Blackburn's success doesn't continue, they'll be off-loading players to control their wage bill while dropping like a stone down the league. I can't say I'll have much sympathy.
So our injury-hit best wasn't quite good enough. But I know which club I'd rather be supporting right now. Sing up Watford...