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96/97: Friendlies:

Pre-season friendly, 9/8/96
Watford 3(2)
Team: Miller, Bazeley, Mooney, Palmer, Millen, Page, C Johnson, Connolly, Andrews, Penrice, Porter
Subs: Ludden (for Mooney), Ramage (for Penrice), Gibbs (for Bazeley), Dixon, Chamberlain
Scorers: Connolly, Porter, Ramage
Cambridge United 0(0)
More convincing
Report by Ian Grant

A more convincing win than Tuesday night's single goal victory, although the opposition presented a far weaker challenge. Cambridge are, I suspect, representative of what the Third Division is all about and, as such, were a pretty persuasive reminder that we do not want to hang around in the lower divisions for too long.

The formation was similar to the one played on Tuesday (3-5-2), with a few personnel changes. The defence was unchanged, perhaps indicative of the fact that they need some time to build understanding, while David Connolly returned to partner Wayne Andrews in attack, testing the idea of relying on pace rather than height going forward. In midfield, Gary Penrice filled Craig Ramage's usual role (he took that rather too literally and disappeared without trace for long periods of the game) and youngster Chris Johnson was given a first team debut in the central role.

It didn't take long to realise that we had too much quality up front for Cambridge. Connolly looks every bit as sharp as he did at the end of last season and they couldn't deal with him. Having already gone close, he opened the scoring with a magnificent first goal after about ten minutes. Johnson received the ball on the centre spot, turned and played a quite exquisite pass through the defence to Connolly. The striker still had a lot of work to do but he cut inside the box and crashed a shot into the roof of the net. All in all, a tremendous piece of football - all the more pleasurable because it came from two of the club's homegrown youngsters.

We went two up a short time after when the ball was cleared to Gary Porter on the edge of the box and he rifled a shot through a crowd of players into the net. At that point, it seemed more than likely that we'd go on to score a bucketload - Connolly was having a field day, ably backed up by Andrews, and we looked dangerous with every attack.

Cambridge aren't entirely gutless, however. They appeared to buck their ideas up after going behind and came at us a little - their play was predictable but, slightly worringly, it also caused us problems. Kevin Miller was forced to make one outstanding point-blank save from a header - the rebound went back to the striker and his second effort was deflected miraculously over by Steve Palmer (I don't think he knew a lot about it). There was a slight element of panic in our defence as the game became more even and developed into quite an absorbing contest towards the end of the half. Connolly had more chances to score - one powerful shot from a tight angle was well saved by the keeper.

The second half was dull, neither side able to find much inspiration as the rain came down harder. Cambridge's incessant offside trap began to irritate, although that had as much to do with a truly risible display of flag-waving from the linesman. Most of the time he was right but his tendency to put the flag up about ten minutes after the event didn't encourage a great deal of confidence in his abilities. Mind you, the offside tactic might be boring but we're going to be coming up against it rather a lot next season and we have to learn to break it down - Connolly, in particular, showed his inexperience in making runs too early too often.

Despite a fair amount of Cambridge possession, Miller's goal wasn't in a lot of danger after the interval. We extended our lead with a close-range Craig Ramage header from a whipped Darren Bazeley cross (Baze's one real quality cross of the evening). Ramage had been on the field for less than a minute after replacing Penrice and celebrated with quite spectacular arrogance, strutting over towards the fans and going through a posing routine that Eubank would've been proud of. Shame there were only 1,800 fans in the ground, really - save it for when it actually matters, Rams.

We had a few chances after that - Ramage took a lazy sand-wedge swing at a shot that went straight into the keeper's hands, he also had a good header; Connolly showed his brilliance again in smashing in a shot from a seemingly non-existent angle, then getting up to cross in the rebound. The scoreline was a fair reflection of the game.

It's still difficult to make predictions about our chances - only the results when it all starts for real in a week's time will tell us what we all want to know. There's no doubt that this performance was more encouraging than the Oxford game - for a start, we had Connolly back and he looks in devastating form. Andrews did well again - he still hasn't got on the end of a really clear-cut chance but he's keen and energetic, so the rest will come in time. And Palmer looks ludicrously classy against this level of opposition (but you knew I'd say that).

I'll reserve the final paragraph for a quick bit of praise for Chris Johnson. He began to fade towards the end (hardly surprising after taking part in three games this week) but he showed enough to tell us that we've got yet another highly promising youth player on our hands. The pass for Connolly's goal was as good as I've seen from a Watford player in these friendlies - perceptive, incisive and perfectly executed - and he did similarly intelligent things all evening. Gary Porter, once again intent on sweeping pointless balls up the wing without looking, ought to be thoroughly embarrassed - he was outclassed by a youth teamer.