Endsleigh League Division 1, 21/11/95
Luton Town 1(1)
Team: Miller 3, Lavin 3, Caskey 3, Millen 3, Holdsworth 3, Ramage 2, Hessenthaler 2, Palmer 2, Mooney 2, Penrice 3, Phillips 3
Subs: Bazeley, Johnson, Moralee (for Penrice) 3
Report by Ian Grant
Eight and a half bloody years! If you don't count the Anglo-Italian (and, let's face it, nobody does), that's how long it is since we beat Luton. To Watford fans, that really hurts. On the evidence of this awful performance, we'll be waiting for a hell of a long time.
I'd love to be able to say that we were unlucky, that we created many more chances than our opponents, that we deserved the win. But, even with a missed penalty to take into account, that would be untrue. We were clueless. To be honest, I can't even be bothered to pick a man of the match - the best anybody managed was an average display which, for a local derby, is not good enough. Hey, maybe I'm just in a bad mood after my lie-in was disturbed by Southern Water's pneumatic drills this morning...
We did actually make quite a bright start, winning a corner in the first minute in front of a passionate North Stand (Caskey inevitably wasted it - I've yet to figure out why he's taking them, unless it's in his loan contract). We even created a genuine chance, when Phillips' header was gathered by the Luton keeper who was scampering back across his line. In the midst of all this, Gary Penrice showed good movement but has yet to find any real understanding with the midfielders - often his runs were ignored until too late, with an offside flag the inevitable result.
Luton found their feet and began to win corners down the other end. Unfortunately for us, they made rather better use of them than we did and scored with a free header after about half an hour. This was pretty much the first chance they'd created but that's what happens if you don't concentrate on marking at set pieces. Other than that, Miller was barely tested all evening - partly due to dreadful finishing (one shot went for a throw-in), mostly because Luton would have settled for a one-nil win.
We built up pressure towards the end of the half, as Watford fans became impatient and the Luton fans (who seem to have been breeding since last season) celebrated, but we rarely looked threatening. In the end it was up to Hessenthaler, who had a poor game but is always capable of inspirational moments, to do something about it. Bursting through into the box, he was brought down by Trevor Peake - bizarrely, particularly since the ref was very eager to get his book out, this didn't warrant a caution even though Hessy only had to beat the keeper. The players and fans celebrated the penalty, which is always something I hate and seems to tempt fate rather a lot, and Ramage stepped up to take it. I couldn't watch so I can't tell you what happened, but when I turned round there was an almighty goalmouth scramble going on and the ball was cleared. So we've missed another penalty. Against Luton. Oh, joy!
The arrival for Moralee at half-time did little to raise spirits, mainly because we'd been soundly beaten in the relay race (their runners being grown men, ours were barely out of nappies). We dominated the second half, restricting Luton to occasional breaks which they wasted, but made little use of the possession. It was dreadful. Some of the players must be well due for a clip round the ear or something - I mean, what on earth possessed Ramage and Caskey to give the ball to DAVID HOLDSWORTH for a long-range shot at goal from a free kick? Forgive me, but I don't recall the last time he scored a thirty-yard dead-ball scorcher...
We created nothing. Prior to the equaliser, the only shot on-target that I can recall was a tame Phillips effort from the edge of the area - well, at least he's prepared to have a go. Too often, we got in decent crossing positions but preferred to pass the ball back and start again, inevitably losing it in the process.
Worst of all, we fell foul of Luton's offside trap countless times. Now, I personally feel that the offside tactic is tedious beyond belief, but it's asking to be broken down, especially when you've got a pacy striker like Kevin Phillips up front. I don't, however, remember a single occasion when we broke it. The strikers were partly to blame for not looking across the line and timing their runs, but the intelligence of the midfielders was the main problem. In not seeing the options available soon enough, they played the passes too late - the strikers had started their runs and were offside. Basic, basic stuff, I'm afraid.
We did equalise, but we should be eternally thankful to whichever Luton defender decided to gift us a goal. The backpass was hideously short and left Ramage in the clear - his curled shot hit the post but Phillips was following up. The relief was unbelievable - with less than ten minutes left, I'd given up all hope. At last the game sprang in to life, with both sides having chances to win - for us, Phillips skied a sharp chance and Ramage nearly made up for the penalty miss with a long-range shot that was well saved.
By the end, I'd settled for a draw. That doesn't mean it's a good result, just that we were lucky to escape with any points at all. We've had to watch some pretty humiliating displays in games against Luton - this was down there with the worst of them, as far as I'm concerned, and the only difference is that we didn't lose this time.