We can't go on like this
Report by Ian Grant
Some of you may remember that I had high hopes of winning this game after we'd battled out a draw at the Vic. That was on the basis that we'd have some of our players fit for the replay and be able to take on Wimbledon with something at least approaching a first-choice side. Since then, things have got even worse. So bad, in fact, that we've finally reached the point where we can't put out fourteen fit players. Full stop. We managed to get eleven on the pitch, but the ones on the bench? A not-even-vaguely-fit David Connolly, Nathan Lowndes (who's still to get his first-team debut) and Warren Neill (who's been helping out the reserves on a non-contract basis). It really is that bad.
In those circumstances, I knew we couldn't win. Football's not a game you can work out on paper but this was as close to a certain result as you're likely to get. The likes of Page, Pitcher and Ludden are hugely promising young players but they're hardly used to the pace of first-team football yet, let alone the demands of a cup tie against Premiership opposition. With our tactical options restricted to 5-3-2 and a horribly weak-looking team, I could not see how we were going to contain Wimbledon.
And so it proved. Almost. This was a plucky display by the Horns and, although the result was always predictable, it was never absolutely certain. In fact, we made a distinctly storming start to the match and might have taken the lead early on. From a corner, David Holdsworth powered in a header and Jamie Moralee had the chance to turn the ball in, but he put it over the bar. It was impossible to tell from our angle whether the header was going in anyway but it looked as if it might have been.
We continued to dominate the early exchanges and Johnno had a free kick turned round the post by the Wimbledon keeper - a comfortable save, but an important one. Gradually, however, Wimbledon got their way back into the game and by half-time they'd started to look as dangerous as they did in the first game. Leonhardsen was very subdued for some reason but that didn't stop the Dons creating chances in the box. Most of these were scrambled away by Watford defenders - when Wimbledon did get clear attempts on goal, they were either off-target or straight at Miller.
I think most of us were delighted to get to the break on level terms - it was just a question of how long we could hang on. After the shock of the initial fifteen minutes, Wimbledon had settled down and it was extremely difficult to see how we were going to score. The midfield was being over-run, despite the best efforts of Pitcher and Johnno, and the service to Moralee and Phillips was atrocious. That said, the unwillingness of the referee to give anything Moralee's way in the aerial challenges was laughable.
The second half was end-to-end stuff. By that I mean that Wimbledon would attack, we'd get a goalkick, boot it back up their end and they'd attack again. I suppose some Dons fans may have come away with the impression that we were hanging on for a penalty shoot-out. We were! It was pretty desperate stuff at times - Wimbledon wasted some very good chances, failing to hit the target on most occasions (which is perhaps why they're not doing too well in the Premiership at the moment).
We bit our nails and tried to stop looking at the clock. At least extra-time would have given some sense of achievement, but it wasn't to be. With about twelve minutes left, Wimbledon won a corner and, as the ball bobbled around in the area, Andy Clarke turned and smacked it past Kevin Miller. It was all over - the fans knew it and, by the looks on the players' faces, they knew it.
Our attempts to get back into the game were spirited but little else. We needed a moment of pure mad inspiration from Tommy Mooney, a bit of class from Craig Ramage or a Super Kev strike, but Tom's injured, Rams is out of sorts and Kev hardly saw the ball all night. When the final whistle blew, we all felt a sense of disappointment - you always do when the FA Cup's over for another season - but I think we'd been prepared for it from the start.
A brave attempt but we can't go on like this for much longer. Certainly the players who've been thrown into the first team recently have coped well enough - Pitcher's been putting in the effort but still lacks any kind of composure; Ludden had his first really good game in a yellow shirt which will give him confidence; Page is a potentially excellent defender and showed his class with an efficient, calm performance - but they won't win us games. We need to win games.
If I had to pick a side out of the current Watford squad, it'd go something like...Miller, Gibbs, Mooney, Holdsworth, Foster, Palmer, Hessenthaler, Payne, Hodge, D****, Phillips with Millen, Penrice/Porter and Bazeley/Johnson as substitutes. I reckon that's a pretty decent First Division side. Except that Gibbs, Mooney, Foster, Palmer, Hessenthaler, Payne, Hodge, Porter and Penrice are all injured (D**** was cup-tied for this game).
What I'm saying is that we should judge Glenn Roeder - we don't pay money to sit and passively accept defeat. But we should judge him on the squad he's assembled since he became manager. That squad is weak in one area but, otherwise, it's a bloody good set of players for this level. More than capable of competing with any side in the division - for that matter, we'd give Wimbledon a run for their money if they ever fancy replaying this match. I think we should judge him on that. That's why I think he should stay.
One final thing: the stewarding. What a disgrace. Again. This is not aimed at Wimbledon but at Palace, who own Selhurst Park and presumably control the actions of their stewards. From the start, Watford fans were going down to the front of the stand to support the team (and give abuse to Mick Harford). The stewards were panicking about this and started swarming around the area we were sitting in. Presumably it hasn't occurred to them that they could section the pitch-side bit off if they don't want people in it. Targetting of any boisterous Watford fans for ejection simply inflamed the situation still further - changing a relatively calm (for an FA Cup tie, anyway) atmosphere into one of extreme tension. We spent most of the match being recorded on video and having every gesture watched by police and stewards. Thirteen quid to be treated like animals. God knows what they do when they get some real trouble-makers.
Quite near a sewage outfall
Report by Darren Rowe
I've used the cliche before somewhere in BSD that "It just wasn't going to be my day", but at the risk of repeating myself, I was having an absolute 'mare. Suffering from a bad dose of the 'flu, I stumbled down to my local Safeways only to catch the completely wrong bus home. Later I arrived at an appointment half an hour late, and later still I burnt my tea. Things weren't looking up when I boarded a train at Victoria only to find that Network SouthCentral had opted for a train half the correct length and filled it it twice its comfortable capacity for half an hour, before I got off at Selhurst and made for the ground. Eventually, burger in hand (and all over my jeans and my programme too-I really was off form!), I found the best seat I could in the Arthur Waite stand. This particular stand is quite antiquated in design, quite cramped in legroom, and has stanchions blocking the view of everyone not in the first nine rows. True to form, I managed to find a seat in row ten and had a rather vociferous mob right behind me! Things would have been so much worse if I hadn't benefitted from a bellyful of ale just minutes before!
As the teams came out, things started to look up - we were wearing our mighty, lucky red shorts. What's more, Mick Harford had decided to take residence right in front of Fincham just before the kick-off, and the WISA chairman's behaviour almost got him banned from football for the rest of the season, after receiving some disciplinary action from the Metropolitan Police for enjoying some rather fruity language. Not one for the kids!
It all seemed fine until I glanced around the motley bunch of players that Roeder had selected to fend off the aerial attack of our Premiership opponents. Obviously Fozzie would have been ideally suited for the back three. Instead we were treated to the delights of the somewhat less aerially advantaged Robert Page. Our midfield seemed bearable - maybe Johnson could sink a long range probe, maybe Ramage would get off his arse and show some of his skills, maybe Pitcher would show some form. Up front, Phillips is a bit short of confidence at the moment...but...ohmygod...it's bloody Moralee. Lowndes and Connolly were on the bench, so we would have to put up with Jamie's unskilled uncommitted dawdling. My reports have been mostly pillories to the thin man's apparent lack of ability - to be quite honest, I preferred Peter Beadle. Yet Roeder persists with the policy of letting Jamie dig a deeper and deeper pit for himself, rather than really showing us why he was bought for so much money. Maybe he was selected today for his experience at Selhurst Park - to be honest all we really saw was why Palace off loaded him in the first place. I personally would rather have seen Lowndes start...
So, with a team made up 45% of reserve teamers, and two kids and a triallist on the bench, we set off, fully hoping for the rub of the green which would send us into a fourth round tie at the Overpriced-moblile-telephone-company-Situated-quite-near-a-sewage-outfall-but-you-can't-get-to-it-yet-but-the-fans-don't-matter-too-much-anyway-so-long-as-the-ground's-got-a-big-name-sponsor Stadium, Middlesbrough.
I've said it a thousand times now, either in the pages of BSD, in an advanced state of refreshment in my local, or in Vic Road itself. We are extremely frail for the first few minutes of a match - we let in on average a goal every third game within the first 15 minutes, and today, it has to be said, was not looking much different. Fortunately we kept their mighty forward line, and that Scandinavian, at bay, but that was not for want of trying on Wimbledon's part.
To be totally honest, I can hardly write a long report about this match and make it sound particularly exciting, so let me tell you instead about the annoying little way that their scoreboard clock counts down instead of up!
No, you want to hear about the Golden boys, right! We had very few chances throughout the game, and if it wasn't for the complete ineptitude of Ekoku, Earle et al, we could have been on the wrong end of a damn good strumping. All Watford had to their credit was two speculative left foot toe-pokes from Bazeley; a long range free kick, and a shot from similar range from "Shoooot!" Johnson; A free kick and an attempted walk in from Ramage; and a last minute header. Needless to say, none of these came to anything, this is Watford after all. Wimbledon at Palace's place were playing a similar style to that which our less respected opponents play at our place in Endsleigh one. They were trying their darndest to stop our forwards penetrating the box, then passing back to their keeper to hoof it upfield, thus catching us on the break. We were having difficulty keeping them away, they had aerial advantage and were using it. Fortunately Holdsworth, clearly boosted by his ugly less-talented brother's absence, Milly and the youngster Page had some pretty good form, and Miller kept them out more times than was comfortable! However, we just couldn't get the ball past our midfield, and on the odd occasion that we did, enterprising use of shoulder climbing and elbows by our surprisingly red clothed opponents ensured that any attack was nipped in the bud.
Our team of diddymen was regularly outheaded by the South London giants. They tried to enforce their superiority by using rough tactics and sending one of their tall strikers to hassle Miller every time he had the ball. Super Kev, hoping to make runs from midfield, was crowded out by the Croydon-based heavies. And Moralee was just totally inept!
Bazeley injected some hope into the proceedings, but it seemed that it would end up as a dire 0-0 draw, and penalties - and we're unbeaten in penalty shootouts all season.
Just as the prospect of 30 minutes extra time loomed large, Watford's resilience was pierced - an Ekoku knock down was followed by an Andy Clarke scrambled toe poke to breech the goal. Typical Womble fare, it's no surprise they only managed to fill half a stand. With just over ten minutes to go, our dreams of a cup upset were shattered.
At that point Mr Roeder showed his tactical nous. A substitution was in order to try and push for that extra goal. Pitcher, who had had a good game considering, was dragged off and Connolly brought on, a midfielder in the Mooney mould. A pretty straight swap really - hardly likely to pressurise too much. And Moralee was still on the pitch - Lowndes must wait another day. Pity really, 'cos on today's form Moralee couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo! Needless to say, on reaching the ten minute mark, Kinnear decided that his entire team that were on the opposite side of the pitch from the dug outs needed changing, one at a time - they must have been injured, because they couldn't walk very quickly!
Towards the end Miller was encouraged by our vocal travelling support to "Try a Schmeichel" and go for it up in the area when a free-kick was on the cards. Needless to say, he considered this a bit unnecessary - for a former midfielder he has little confidence outside of his own area, so it's pretty lucky he's a goalie now. Not to take anything from his performance, he was by far the better of the two keepers - Sullivan, in for Hans Segers, who seems to be devoting a lot more time to his Tie boutiques these days, was decidedly dodgy, just like in the first match.
1-0 it stayed, Watford were rueing missing the few chances they had. Returning home, knowing my luck I wouldn't be making it beyond the alleyway that runs alongside Selhurst station. I was eventually left waiting forty odd minutes for a train that runs every fifteen minutes - apparently.
Well, at least the Arsenal are out...