Report by Ian Lay
The last time I saw a game this poor was a couple of years ago, against a certain seaside town in the F.A. Cup. Those of you who went to Scarborough that year will have some idea of how mind numbingly tedious Easter Monday's game was.
Put simply, after the disaster of Saturday, we had to win at Plymouth. We didn't, and with that any real hope of getting automatic promotion slipped away. We would now have to rely on the teams above us slipping up and don't think that is going to happen..... but we will see.
This game had 0-0 written all over it from the start. And even though both sides did create a clear cut chance, I had never had any doubt of the final score. Which made the whole afternoon rather boring. Which was a shame as Heidi and I had spent a pleasant couple of days down in Devon. We'd driven up on Sunday morning and booked into a lovely little hotel just outside Plymouth. Excellent food, good beer, pleasant staff and a small heated indoor swimming pool. Marvellous.
On the Monday morning we drove up into Dartmoor and stopped at lovely pub and had a couple of drinks before heading into Plymouth for a few at the Pennycomequick public house near the ground. At this point of the day I was feeling fairly optimistic and looking forward to the game. The optimism lasted for all of about 15 minutes as the game soon turned into a dreary midfield battle.
The first half was so bad that I can't think of much that happened. Plymouth had a couple of headers which went safely wide but neither side really created anything anywhere near what you would call even a half chance. For some reason KJ had decided to give Ramage a go from the start. This I really can't understand. By all accounts he hasn't been playing well in the reserves and he did nothing on Monday to suggest that that wasn't the case. He ran around, really not looking interested and was quite frankly a complete waste of space.
The second half was slightly more lively. We created a couple of openings.....honest we did.
In fact the best chance of the game fell to us. A good ball through from Armstrong on the left was brought down smartly by Ramage on the edge of the Plymouth penalty area. He made himself some room to pass the ball square to Johnson who had popped up unmarked by the penalty spot. Unfortunately instead of hitting the ball first time Johno elected to control it before shooting and this gave a defender enough time to scramble across to deflect his goal bound effort out for a corner. Some would say that Johnson should have scored and yes he should. But you can't be too harsh on him. He's not a striker and rarely finds himself in those types of position. The real crime is why there was none of our forwards and attacking midfielders up with the play. Johnson has to be credited for getting in the position in the first place. It's so disappointing that once there he couldn't deliver the goods.
KJ then made some substitutions. Firstly bringing on Slater to replace Mooney and a little later Bazeley came on for Palmer but this had little affect on the game. Neither sub contributed much apart from when they combined to create one of the few chances of the afternoon. A cross from Darren was headed wide by Slater when the latter really should have got the chance on target.
A little earlier Johnson created the best effort of the day when he hit a low 25 yard shot which I really thought was going to sneak inside Grobblelaar's right hand post. Somehow though he managed to get across and claw it out.
Plymouth didn't have many ideas either really. They had one 25 yard power blaster that went just over the bar and late on created their only clear cut opening when Miller had to save smartly at the feet of a Plymouth attacker but apart from that Kevin yet again had little to do. And this really sums up the game. When both goalkeepers are really only called upon once in a game to extend themselves it makes you wonder why you bother.
Let's be honest, the ref didn't help much. He blew up for every petty foul committed and a lot which just weren't fouls at all and generally didn't let the game flow. He was also rather biased towards the home side. Most of the 50-50 situations went Plymouth's way. The standard of refs this season has been appalling. When you get these little bloody busy bodies with their little bit of power, week in week out, it makes you want to weep.
The ground was not much better. The terracing was as shallow as the old Rookery used to be at Watford, and it was uncovered. So any noise we could have made would have been lost into the bright blue sky. Not that there was much chanting. It certainly is the quietest I've heard Watford fans away from home.
Their announcer seemed to have perverse sense of humour too. He decided to read the half time results by not quoting team names but by some other method. For example for the first division games he read them out by Manager. So we had something like Lou Macari 0 Mark McGhee 1. I know Stoke weren't playing Wolves... but you get the idea. I didn't hear what he was using for the division 2 games. I think it was sponsors, but I may be wrong. So when he had finished that I was expecting him to repeat the scores properly, but, no, he never did. Bastard!
Anyway, no one was really outstanding, the pick of the bunch being the defence. Apart from Gibbs who had a 'mare. He was outpaced a lot of the time by their left winger and as usual had no attacking ideas whatsoever. Millen and Page both had good games, but really Plymouth's standard of crossing did nothing to worry either of them. Miller had another quiet afternoon, but his handling was superb. At times I think he's got glue on the palms of his gloves! The pick of the defenders, and in fact the team, was Craig Armstrong. He was solid in defence and also he provided most of what little creative play there was. He had a couple of good little runs and seemed the most likely person to carve out an opening.
In midfield Palmer had a reasonably good game until he went off. He and Johnson worked hard as usual, breaking down attacks and generally harassing any Plymouth player that came within striking distance but with Penrice seemingly playing deeper than he needed, our attacking options were limited.
Up front Ramage was a complete waste of space and should never been anywhere near Devon. God only knows why KJ decided to play him. He didn't look fit, he didn't look interested, he shouldn't have played. You could have hired an actor to do what he did, and probably would have made it more convincing. Especially when it came to falling over looking for a free kick.
Phillips and Mooney did very little to encourage me whatsoever. They were starved of service at times I know, but both were below their best.
And so it came to pass that we ended the Easter fixture programme with one point from six. To be blunt, the game was awful and if lower division football is to survive it really has to come up with something better than this to compete with the Premiership. We need more teams like Crewe who are willing to play good attractive football rather than teams like Watford and Plymouth who look to close people down, hassle them off the ball, not concede a goal and then sneak one themselves on the break. It is no surprise that young kids would prefer to watch Man U or Liverpool on the box than go to games like this. If any of us who went to the game yesterday (and that includes Plymouth fans) were sane then we would do the same. Unfortunately insanity is one of the qualifications you have to have if you wish to be lower division football supporter.
Here's to a better game on Saturday against the aforementioned Crewe. It could just be the best game we are likely to see at the Vic this season.