Good result, bad day...
Report by Bruce Edhouse
Warning: do not read this if you have happy memories of the match. It'll
just ruin it for you...
OK, so we'd been relegated. Never mind, eh? We'd easily get promoted this
year. Well, that was what my Dad had been saying all summer. He's not as big
an addict as I am, so he wasn't going through the same tauntings and insults
I'd had to endure over the summer. So, in return for the humiliations over
the summer, I wanted Watford FC to go to Bournemouth and win on the first
day of the season, which goes against tradition somewhat. But I was pretty
sure they would.
So, we travelled to Bournemouth, and for the first 20 minutes, all
was fine. Then we got on the motorway. And stayed there. Until the signs for
Bournemouth started appearing about 3 hours later. It is also necessary to
point out, to those who've forgotten, that Saturday August the 17th was a
bloody hot day - the thermometer in our car reached 35 degrees at one point.
It was, quite simply, the hottest I've ever felt (unless you count that time
the bloody employment agency "asked" me to work in a greenhouse on the
hottest day of 1995...).
At about 2:45, panic started to set in. We had no idea where the
stadium was, due to a minor breakdown in communication, and had 15 minutes
to find it, get in, and find a suitable spot on the terrace (I had been
assured that seats were not available). Oddly enough, we found it a few
minutes later, having followed someone with a fottbal shirt on.
Now, it's always nice to take a large following away from home, but
I wasn't really expecting the amount of Hornets standing in an orderly (ha!)
line, baiting police over the Kevin Phillips/Truncheon interaction last
year, and showing off their new away kits. We stood there, and stood there,
and stood there, until 3 o'clock, and the news that kick-off was delayed until
3:15, and then until 3:15, when the bogus news of a 3:30 kick-off arrived.
Then the match kicked off. At this point we could just about see the
turnstiles - both of them! It's at times like this that you need a sense of
Eventually we got in, having missed the first 20 minutes, and stood
there, not being able to see anything until half time. Now, due to the
intense heat, I wasn't feeling too well, and my girlfriend had already been
queueing for 15 minutes to get a cold drink. I must have looked bad, because
a policeman actually asked if I was OK, and recommended that I should ask to
sit in one of the empty seats in the shade. So, I did this, and was told
that (on police recommendation - doh!) no-one was allowed to move. I
explained that I was feeling ill, and was told that they'd only let people
in if they were really ill. I said I was, and was told that I'd have to
physically collapse before they let me in. Nice.
You can probably guess the rest. 10 minutes into the second half, I
had to go outside the "stadium," so that I could be ill. I stayed there and
was brought some water after about 15 minutes (by the person who'd told me
I'd have to collapse before they let me move - looking concerned, all of a
sudden). My attempts to get water from the taps in the toilets hadn't
worked, because they were all smashed up. As far as I'm concerned, this sort
of thing is unnaceptable, in the times we live in - Stevenage and
Kidderminster et al being refused entry to the Football League because their
grounds are "not ready in time". I'll bet their taps were working on the
opening day of the season.
So, I heard the goals go in, whilst being joined by an ever
lengthening line of people sitting outside feeling ill with sunstroke like
myself. and the St John's Ambulance people were surprised there were so many
of us. At this point, they started giving water to the people inside,
otherwise, there would have been more people outside than in.
When people asked me what the game was like, I replied that I didn't
know. But, after I'd explained why, I also added that Watford had done what
I'd asked, and won. And I wouldn't swap that bit for anything.
Report by Dan Exeter
To think I could have been earning money at work - instead, and despite my financial better sense, I weedled a day off work from dishing out burgers at MacDonalds to hop (not literally) down to Bournemouth for the first in no doubt many comprehensive away wins in this, our double-winning season.
Something like that, anyway. It was a lovely day, almost too lovely to have to ruin it by going to the football, but nevertheless I forced myself to be optimistic that we'd play better that we did the last time I'd seen the Golden Boys (Leicester on the last day - I hadn't the heart or the money to sample any of our high quality friendlies). The omens were good upon arriving at Dean Court, as it had only just gone two and there was already a bit of a queue to get in and the uncovered terrace was looking reasonably well-populated. Oh, the joys of an uncovered terrace. I hadn't been on one since Scarborough.
Guessing by the number of people who continued to stream in, resulting in the kick-off being delayed by fifteen minutes, and apparently even at 3:45 when it should have been half-time but the queue was still halfway round the ground, a lot of other people hadn't been on an uncovered terrace or indeed any kind of away match in quite a while. Not that I'm complaining - on the contrary, it was very heartening to see so many people willing to make the effort to cheer the lads on, especially in this sort of weather when the nearby beach was surely a temptation. As Don Fraser put it, we were paying stlg 7:50 for an afternoon's worth of the sort of sun that some people might spend a few hundred quid to go to Tenerife for.
The team, to be honest, wasn't much of a surprise. Kev Miller still in goal obviously, Darren was right wing-back and Mooney left wing-back, with Steve Palmer, Keithy and Pagey as the back three (no room for Dom Ludden, which I thought a bit unlucky, but at least he was on the bench, although the blokes in front of me seemed to think he was Richard Flash. Somewhat unfortunate, as Richard Flash is coloured with dreadlocks, a description which is at odds with any conceivable way of describing Dom), Johnno in midfield with new boy Steve Talboys, with Big Dev, Connolly and Ramma up front. No Super Kev because he was injured, presumably the same applied to Penrice and Porter, while Dixon was taking over at Doncaster Rovers. Gibbsy, still around on a month-to-month, was on the bench as well as Wayne Andrews.
We started off pretty well, taking the game to Bournemouth, and Connolly could have scored in the first minute, but after a brief flurry Bournemouth began to get back into it. The first half finished pretty even really, although having missed the last ten minutes of it because I was queuing for some sorely needed liquid refreshment perhaps I'm not best qualified to comment.
The second half saw us up the pace a bit, although it was Bournemouth who came at us first. We began to put the pressure on, turn the screw and all those other metaphors that people use to describe when one team is trying harder than the other to score, and we were rewarded when a seemingly lost Mooney run across the box (if only he'd just had a swing with his right foot!!) was finished by Connolly taking over and putting a left-footer in the corner. Magic. Our end became very noisy. The home end became very quiet.
Our second was a real peach (again, not literally) of a goal. Ramage attacked down the right, toe-poked the ball with the outside of his right foot to Connolly who was running in from the right wing, and Connolly took it past a defender or two to square for Big Dev, who sidefooted neatly into the roof of the net.
Two up and we were looking comfortable. We defended pretty well, and I'm telling you that Steve Palmer is a revelation at centre back. He perhaps doesn't quite have the skill and pace to play effectively in midfield, but at this level and in this position he can really excel. Page and Millen I thought did respectably well, and although I personally would perhaps prefer to see Dom on the left side instead of Millen, from this performance we've got a strong back three and to be honest I wouldn't be too upset if Holdsworth was sold soon.
Problem is, we made trouble for ourselves. Bournemouth pulled one back, a close range shot unluckily deflected past Miller, and then it was all Bournemouth. Miller pulled off a couple of unbelievable saves (a return to form from Miller will be vital if we're going to build up some momentum) to keep us in it. The main problem was we sat back too much and let them come at us. Ramma come off for Gibbs, Andrews came on for a couple of minutes for Connolly to continue the headless-chicken-running-around-up-front routine, but we just stood around outside our own box waiting for them to attack when we should have been pushing out. Those last minutes following the Bournemouth goal were rather too tense for my liking. Perhaps crucially though, we held out and didn't crack, and started our promotion campaign with an away win and the concomitant three points.
Just a few thoughts on the team...I thought Bazeley did really well. Although defensively a little suspect (he says euphemistically) I think this wing-back role suits him quite well as he was able to get forward quite a bit and get some crosses in. Mooney similarly did well on the other flank. I personally thought Johnno and Talboys did well in central midfield, Johnno headed the ball while on the ground away from the feet of the Bournemouth hard man at one point, while Ramage was lazy as usual and I think a return to fitness for Penrice will bring a bit of sorely needed competition there. Connolly was his usual industrious self (I hope we keep hold of him as he's undoubtedly a fantastic prospect for the future. And to think until Port Vale I didn't especially rate him. I suppose now is not a good time to also admit that I never used to rate David Beckham as well). This is clearly Big Dev's level. While I still think that he's fundamentally crap and I hope we replace him with someone with a little more, or even just some, skill, his strength and ability is suited to Division Two and he could well be worth a good twenty goals for us (shows you just how crap Division Two is really). If Super Kev and Connolly can produce something similar between them then we'd have a strike force as prolific as any in the division.
Here's hoping we can keep it up.
A very satisfying day
Report by Kate Holmes
Nice to get the season off to a winning start. I couldn't believe the weather - it must have been the hottest day of the year. Like many Hornets I went down early to soak up the sun on the beach. I wore my new AC Watford shirt, thinking I was going to be one of the few. The first thing I saw on my arrival in Bournemouth was a group of about 5 people all in the away kit. Just about everywhere you looked there was Watford shirts. Thankfully the police presence in town was pretty low key.
Got to the ground at about 1.15, and there were hundreds of Hornets milling about. There was even a large queue at the away end. I saw DC's dad outside, and he says that he hopes the contract situation will be resolved in the very near future. I suppose it is times like this that you know you have been relegated when you sample the delights of an open terrace. Having got there nice and early I picked a prime location near the front next to the goal. Unfortunately, as the terrace filled up, lots of tall people came and stood in front of me. Selfish gits.
The team news was that Porter was dropped, Ramage, Johnno and Talboys were in midfield, with Palmer acting as sweeper. DC and Big Dev were up front. As we got nearer to kick off, we could sense the stewards and police beginning to worry a little bit, as there were still hundreds of Hornets outside. News filtered through that the game was going to be delayed by 15 minutes to try and get everyone in. Some people were saying that the queue stretched all the way down the side of the ground. I didn't know we had that many fans. Apparently the police wanted the game delayed till 3.30, but the ref wouldn't allow it.
We started the game well, with DC hitting the post in the first minute. Much of the action happened down the other end of the pitch for the first 20 minutes, but we didn't take any chances that came our way. Bournemouth began to get more into the game, but I don't think any of us really worried about them scoring. I actually expected us to win, and I've got a feeling that this is the attitude of most Hornets.
Once the majority of the supporters had made it onto the terrace, we had eased back. I wasn't surprised the pace slowed down, as it was so hot it was difficult to just stand there. Being an open terrace there was no escape from the sun, and I managed to get sunburned. Now there's a novelty at a football match. The St John's Ambulance men brought some water round for us to try and cool down with, and so we could face the second half a little more lively.
The players came out in a more positive mood, and I think KJ must have laid into them a little. We had a couple of attempts, one of them a powder puff shot from DC. He obviously used it as a sighter, as a couple of minutes later, he struck a shot that I knew the keeper wasn't going to save. I saw DC hit it, I couldn't see where it went, but it sparked off a lovely celebration. Even in that heat, everyone went mad. From there we looked so much in control, and it just seemed a matter of time before we got a second. Ramage, seen for the first time in the game, got into what looked to be a good shooting opportunity, but unselfishly chose to play in DC. He shimmied past a defender, and shaped to shoot, but like Rams chose the unselfish option and squared the ball for Big Dev to sidefoot home. Mental celebrations.
Needless to say the boys couldn't give us an easy 15 minutes to the end, and conceded a goal a couple of minutes later. We were unlucky, as the ball got a massive deflection to take it into the net. This gave Bournemouth more energy, and they put us under immense pressure. Kev was forced into several saves, one of them an incredible double save, to keep our lead. In the final minute they got another corner, and their keeper went up for it, which led to a fairly strange free kick, as their keeper fouled Kev.
This was the last action, and you could see how happy the players were to have made it through with the win. This was a result that we managed to grind out. We probably deserved to get something out of the game, but we were lucky to hang on for the win. If we are going to get anywhere near promotion, this is exactly the sort of result we need to hang on for. The performance was not what I would classify as good, but the fact that we won made it a very happy day.
One thing that worried me was the fact that we have very few players who will battle to win the ball. Johnno put in a very good display, with one exceptional tackle whilst on the ground, using his head to take the ball away from a Bournemouth player's feet. Kev's form in goal was exceptional, and it took a wicked deflection to beat him. Steve Palmer did well, and DC looks very sharp. Rams was nowhere to be seen, and Talboys was very quiet. Big Dev managed to cause a few problems up front, and while it doesn't look pretty, he is the type of player needed to get out of this division.
The police were not seen too often, but every time they walked in front, they would be greeted with chants of Super Kev. According to one fan I chatted to after the game, there were about 600 Hornets who were unable to get in. The police were only expecting about 1500 of us, and got about 3,000. I think the players must have been pleased to see that many Hornets down there. There is an optimism about this season, and a lot of us are expecting something decent. I just hope the players have the bottle to produce results when the weather is distinctly less warm. All in all a very satisfying day.
Winning is what counts
Report by Ian Grant
Blimey, something's happened over the summer. We've become a Big Club. Not only are we the bookies' favourites for promotion (although I'd feel more comfortable if that wasn't the case), we've got an away following that swamped this quaint little ground. So much so, in fact, that the kickoff had to be delayed to let us all in and even then there were fans still arriving at half-time. It's not as if it wasn't obvious that we were going to bring upwards of two thousand fans, so why open only two turnstiles?
Anyway, the late arrivals didn't miss much. After a flurry of activity in the first minute, during which David Connolly had a shot from a narrow angle cleared off the line, the first half settled into a largely sterile pattern. That might have been something to do with the heat - on the open terrace, the sun was unrelenting and it was virtually impossible to find the energy to pay attention to such mediocre football. Survival was the order of the day.
There were positive points, though. Connolly looks frighteningly sharp, darting around the pitch and giving defenders all sorts of problems - he's not the finished article yet but, if he stays with us, he'll score a lot of goals at this level. Equally, Steve Palmer, playing as sweeper in a 3-5-2 formation, showed his indisputable class in clearing up Bournemouth's stuttering attacks.
The real revelation was Richard Johnson, however. Clearly fired up and relishing the opportunity to claim a regular first team place, the midfielder put in clattering challenge after challenge. If there was one occasion that summed up his performance, it was when, lying on the floor after making a tackle, he managed to head the ball away from an opponent's boot - that's the kind of bravery that'll get us out of this division.
The half ended in stalemate. Neither side seemed capable of finding that killer pass to open up the defence and, as a result, chances were rare. Bournemouth came closest, with a volley that Miller tipped over after Page had misdirected a header.
The second half was altogether more interesting. Bournemouth came out intent on pushing forward and, for a while, we looked uncomfortable. After a period of fairly sustained pressure, we started to break out, immediately creating the first clearcut chance of the game, releasing Devon White, who saw his effort smothered by the keeper. Soon after that, Connolly scuffed a weak shot at the keeper when well-placed.
The game had opened up and the first goal arrived as we began to show some of our attacking quality. Mooney found himself on the edge of the area and tried to set up a shot - he failed but the ball came to Connolly, who looked up and slotted an accurate shot into the bottom corner. From where I was, it didn't look like a particularly powerful shot but, without having seen it on TV, I can't say if the keeper should have saved it or not.
The goal relieved the pressure and we continued to create openings, the best of which fell to Talboys at the far post from a White header across goal but the debutant slashed his effort over the bar. The second goal came from the best move of the match. It was so wonderfully simple - Ramage's one moment of inspiration, flicking a perfectly incisive pass into Connolly's path, the low cross to an unmarked White and an easy finish past the helpless keeper. Utterly devastating.
That really should have been the end of it - sadly, we seemed to lose concentration and we let Bournemouth back into the game. Their goal was extremely fortuitous - an evil deflection on a close range shot that left Miller with no chance - but it was followed by a period of undignified panic and we were a little lucky to hold on. In the end, it took some heroics from Miller (one double-save, pushing a header wide then getting up to smother the rebound, was particularly brilliant) and some determined defending (Palmer preventing a chance with a superb blocking tackle just as a striker was about to shoot) to take the points.
What was disturbing was the lack of thought apparent in our play as we tried to hang on to the lead. At times like these, we need to be able to control the game, keep the ball and make the opposition chase us. In fact, we did nothing of the sort - for the last few minutes, we had eleven men behind the ball and resorted to booting clearances as far away as possible, only to see the ball come straight back at us. Although Big Dev did some sterling work back in defence, we really do have to have someone upfield to relieve the pressure.
Still, all's well that ends well, I s'pose. To all intents and purposes, this was the first competitive game under a new manager so we can't expect everything to fall into place straight away. The most important thing is that we win games, everything else is secondary to that.