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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 15/10/96
Watford 2(1)
Team: Miller 3, Gibbs 4, Ludden 3, Johnson 3, Millen 4, Page 3, Bazeley 3, *Andrews 5*, White 2, Palmer 4, Mooney 4
Subs: Ward, Easton, Noel-Williams (for White) 4
Scorers: Andrews (39), Johnson (78)
Burnley 2(1)
Scorers: Gleghorn (28), Smith (76)
Wayne Andrews la-la-la
Report by Ian Grant

Confident? Only slightly, to be honest. During the summer, I said that I didn't believe the current squad would be capable of winning promotion - less to do with the quality of the players, more to do with the total lack of strength in depth. I wish I'd changed my mind but I haven't. We had three YTS players on the bench last night and, while it's great to see that we have so many young players progressing through the club, that indicates that we're dreadfully short of options.

With Gary Penrice injured (presumably - I can't believe he would've been dropped after an excellent performance on Saturday), we had only the bare bones of a midfield. Playing Steve Palmer and Richard Johnson in the same midfield is a nightmare scenario. Since they're both naturally defensively-minded, we were left with a void in the last third - too often the ball came loose from one of our attacks and there was no-one around to nip a Burnley movement in the bud - and a desperate lack of genuine creativity (Palmer is a creative player but only in the sense that he sits back and looks for movement in front of him - he's really no good at playing intricate one-twos around the box).

I've been screaming about this for months...we have to invest in the squad. Graham Taylor's admission last week that there is no money available for new players, that "what you see is what we've got", is seriously depressing. What, for example, happens if one of our central defenders sustains a long-term injury? Colin Foster'll be off before too long so that leaves us with Darren Ward, a trainee with one first team game under his belt. Or Steve Palmer, our best midfielder. What happens if Devon White gets injured (or, for that matter, what happens if Kenny Jackett decides that Devon's not up to the job)? We have Gifton Noel-Williams, a hugely promising trainee but a trainee nonetheless. Or we play with two small strikers, which, bearing in mind our insistence on hitting long balls a lot of the time, is unlikely to be fun to watch.

We have a squad of about 25 professionals at Watford Football Club. Four of those (Kevin Belgrave, Clint Easton, Richard Flash and Mark Rooney) have yet to make first-team debuts. Others (Colin Simpson, Nathan Lowndes) have barely started their first-team careers. Two are on the way out (Craig Ramage is out of contract, Colin Foster is transfer listed). That leaves precious little room for manoeuvre.

Anyway, I'll stop going on about it (I dare say it'll get mentioned again at some point) and write a match report.

In truth, we didn't play that badly under the circumstances. With the obvious lack of inspiration, this was always going to be an effort and so it proved but we got a point and probably deserved more. We only have ourselves to blame for not taking all three points.

Burnley started as the livelier side but couldn't sustain the pressure for very long (an early corner or two and that was about it), leaving us to dominate the majority of the game. That was more through belligerence than anything else (the flipside to Johnson and Palmer's lack of creativity is that we have a midfield that knows how to tackle) and it'd be difficult to pretend that Burnley were under the cosh for long periods, but we did look the side most likely to score.

We didn't score, though, and that's happened too often this season, particularly at home. We created the chances, we just didn't stick them in the back of the net. I can excuse Devon White's general lack of coordination outside the box (at the very least, it tends to liven up the dull bits in every game) but when he starts to miss the close-range opportunities that should be his forte, you have to start to wonder what he's doing on the pitch. I admit that I may be being unfair on him (I was down the other end and distances tend to look smaller from that range) but the wasted chance halfway through the half was really unbelievable. After bouncing around the area for a bit, the ball came to Devon, who had a free header close to goal and somehow put it over. We pay his wages to put those in the net.

And, as on Saturday, we were punished for our poor finishing. Burnley's goal came against the run of play but that doesn't matter - it's how you use the possession that counts. Poor marking allowed Kurt Nogan to turn in the box and the ball found its way to another striker who, under challenge, stroked the ball past Kevin Miller. Miller was beaten again shortly afterwards when he failed to hold a cross - fortunately, the driven shot was brilliantly headed clear from the goalline by Palmer.

More chances were wasted after the goal - White was again guilty when he found himself clean through (despite committing a blatant, if accidental, handball in the process of controlling the ball) and opted to shoot early, slicing the ball wide. That didn't please the Watford fans much - the laughter that had greeted some of Dev's more extravagant efforts turned to anger once we were trailing.

The equaliser was splendid, though. Coming forward, presumably to get noticed enough to earn that contract, Nigel Gibbs found himself in a decent shooting position and fired in a rocket of a shot that swerved enough to put the keeper off and force him to parry it. As the ball rebounded out into the penalty area, Wayne Andrews reacted quicker than anyone else and latched onto it, turned in a flash and tucked it into the corner of the goal. It seemed the ball was in the net before anyone else had even moved a muscle.

The second half followed a very similar pattern to the first - early Burnley pressure, wasted Watford chances, Burnley goal, Watford equaliser. Too often the quality of our crosses let us down (Bazeley seemed reluctant to take on his full-back on the outside, despite the fact that Eyres, pronounced ARSE, was having an absolute nightmare of a game, and Mooney tends to be the opposite, in that he's over-ambitious in taking on defenders and ends up crossing from impossible positions) and we didn't do enough to hurt Burnley around the penalty area. This time it was Andrews who was responsible for missing the best opportunity - he was falling backwards as he went to shoot from a cross and he couldn't keep the ball down.

It was also Andrews who caused the problems that allowed Burnley to score - the youngster (and don't let's ever forget that that's what he is) mis-placed a pass in midfield and Burnley took full advantage, setting up a sweeping move that ended with a neat finish past the advancing Miller. Had it been Ramage who'd given the ball away I'd probably have spent several days swearing at him but Andrews contributed so much that was good (and a few things that were brilliant) to the game, I can't find it in my heart to have a go at him. I thought he was nothing short of superb last night - after an early period in which he looked a little jaded, he came out of his shell and was quick, sharp, aggressive and intelligent. Three times he nearly intercepted backpasses, simply because the defenders didn't believe he could be fast enough to get there in time (he was booked for the last one and probably rightly so, since he did make late contact with the keeper, but on the first occasion it looked as if he'd actually beaten the keeper to the ball after an incredible bit of raw speed and then been pulled down). The Burnley defenders won't forget him in a hurry, I suspect. For that matter, he won't forget them either - he'll have the bruises from a scything foul late on that the referee deemed not to be worthy of a booking (I lost it at that point and shouted so much I nearly fainted).

It took less than five minutes for us to recover from going behind again. The fact that both our goals came from long-range shots probably says a lot about our performance - we didn't penetrate enough. Anyway, this time it was Richard Johnson, moving in towards the box and curling an absolute peach of a shot over the keeper. For a disappointing moment it looked like it was going to float calmly into the keeper's welcoming arms, then I realised it was perfectly placed and the keeper didn't stand a hope in hell of getting anywhere near it.

That was about the end of the action - we had a bit more pressure towards the end, while Burnley were content to welly the ball as far away from the goal as possible, but did little to suggest we were going to score a third. The fans seemed happy enough at the end (Robert Page's celebrations were perhaps a bit over the top - maths clearly isn't his strong point) but we have to start getting our home form together. That means taking our chances - Preston aside, we haven't been creating that many and we can't afford to miss them - and not giving away silly goals. Sounds easy, don't it?