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Nationwide League Division 2, 1/10/96
Watford 1(0)
Team: Miller 3, Gibbs 3, Ludden 2, Johnson 2, Millen 3, *Palmer 4*, Bazeley 2, Connolly 4, White 1, Penrice 3, Mooney 3
Subs: Talboys, Ward, Andrews (for Connolly) 4
Scorers: White (90)
Preston North End 0(0)
Ill and annoyed
Report by Kate Holmes

Having suffered immeasurably up at Shrewsbury on Saturday (sorry for the lack of report, but I was told that if you have nothing good to say, don't say anything, and I think that sums up Shrewsbury. It rained, I got wet, we lost, played badly, and now I'm suffering from flu) I gave serious consideration to not going to this match against Preston. Anyone who knows me will realise just how ill/annoyed etc I must have felt.

Anyway, against my better judgement, I did actually go. I had been to the Reserves the previous night, and watched them beat Spurs 2-1 - cracking goal from Flash, and brilliant performance from our left back Paul Robinson, who I will tip as the next Junior to make his debut. As Ig knows, Robbo is probably one of my favourite players as he is a bit of a violent thug. It was quite amusing listening to the Spurs players going on about Rosenthal, who played at Old Trafford the day before, and then had to play at St Albans. Well, what about our Gifton? On Saturday he played at the might of Shrewsbury, and then had to play at St Albans. Actually, I think St Albans have a better ground than Shrewsbury. Well, the toilets are better. But don't get me started on that subject.

Preston on Tuesday saw one change up front with the welcome return of DC at the expense of Gifton. Wayne was on the bench. Unfortunately, DC did not look anywhere like fit, and it wasn't much of a surprise when he got taken off. Wayne looked lively when he came on, and it proved how much we had missed him on Saturday.

Preston forced several corners in the first half, but I never believed that they might score from one of them. They never really attacked us, and I can't remember them having a shot on target. For our part, we started off well enough, but we seem to lose confidence if we don't score a goal in the first 15 minutes. I had a feeling this game would either be a 0-0 or 5-0 to us. Half time came, and for a change the players weren't booed from the pitch.

The second half livened up a bit, especially towards the end when we became more desperate for a goal. The ref was a little on the strange side, as ever. Some of his decisions were extremely bizarre - Dev was fouled in the area, so he gave Preston the free-kick and booked the Preston player for it. Interesting. He was very reluctant to give anything in Wayne's favour, even when he was hacked down in the area. One of the worst decisions, bearing in mind the new directive to play on and see what advantage there is going to be, was when Wayne was brought down on the half way line when he would have been away and in the clear. The ball went to Dev who was away and in the clear, at which point the ref blew for our free kick. OK, so we all know that Dev would almost certainly have messed up, but the ref should have given us the chance to find out.

Heading into the last few minutes we just camped in their area. Booby Mimms in goal was doing the old time-wasting lark, and the ref seemed happy to allow him to do so. We forced a few corners, and had an almighty goal scramble, the ball seeming to cross the line before being hacked away. We all appealed in vain, but managed to get another corner. This one caused even more confusion, and about 20 shots rained in before the ball was finally forced over the line. At the game, the goal was given to Palmer, but I was convinced that Dev was the one who actually put the ball over the line. I don't think any of us cared, as everyone went totally mental. This was one of the best Vicarage Road celebrations for a long time, and it certainly made me feel an awful lot better.

This was a much improved performance to the Shrewsbury one, and while I'm sure people will be moaning about it, I'm just happy to keep on picking up the points. I just want to get out of this division (the right way) and I'm not bothered how we do it. I am just looking forward to getting in a few new grounds, knowing that I'm supporting a winning side for once.

I'm going to go back to bed now, as I'm feeling decidedly ill. Sympathy would be greatly appreciated. Apologies if this report does not make the slightest bit of sense. See you at York on Saturday, those of you who will be going. I will try not to infect everyone with this nasty little flu bug.

Late night farming
Report by Ian Grant

Weird old business, this football lark. Last night, Watford's players were about a minute away from being booed off the pitch (unjustifiably, really, but fans are a fickle bunch) when Steve Palmer finally scored the match-winning goal, leading to mad celebrations and a sense of jubilation when the final whistle blew. Such is the thin line between success and failure, or something like that.

We should have won this by a hatful. That we didn't was down to Bobby Mimms, the Preston keeper, who was Man of the Match by such a margin that the rest ought to be embarrassed; some good defending and a bit of poor finishing. The nagging doubt remains that we are not imposing any kind of class on this division - the ability to take advantage of opportunities when they fall our way is very much part of that.

The early exchanges illustrated our current situation perfectly. On the one occasion that we attacked in the first ten minutes, we nearly scored - Gary Penrice initiated a move that ended with Tommy Mooney cutting into the box and firing a powerful shot towards the bottom corner. Mimms got down well to push the ball past the post. Apart from that, though, we looked nervous in front of the home crowd. Preston didn't have us in any particular trouble but they forced a string of corners and generally did more to suggest that they might score than we did. We've yet to get our confidence back after last season, even now.

Despite the evident tension in our play, the best chances were all down the Rookery end. David Connolly looked lively early on and fired a low shot just past the post - unfortunately he retired, presumably injured, after about half an hour. The injury crisis strikes again...but I still maintain that we haven't learnt the lessons of last season with regard to having a strong squad of first team players. Anyway, with Tommy Mooney rampaging down the left and making up for the rather tentative efforts of Darren Bazeley on the right wing (one word you wouldn't use to describe anything Tommy Mooney does: tentative), we looked quite dangerous when the passes linked together properly. Mimms again foiled Mooney as the half progressed by pushing a Devon White-bound low cross out of the danger area - a fine save, since it prevented what would, even with Dev to consider, have been a pretty certain goal. Late on in the half, Mimms was called into action once more to deny Wayne Andrews. A deep corner from Mooney was headed back into the danger area by Keith Millen and Andrews flicked it on from close in - the keeper did well to tip it over the bar.

As far as Preston were concerned, they did nothing to call Kevin Miller into action. Sure, there were a couple of headers and shots that went off-target (I seem to remember one free header that a better striker would've taken full advantage of) but nothing serious. We really shouldn't concede many goals this season - much of the attacking play at this level is painfully predictable (a habit that we're falling into too often as well) and, despite the relative lack of height at the back, we ought to be able to anticipate most situations.

Goalless at half-time, then, but a few things to be positive about - we were looking like we could score. The second half followed a very similar pattern, only with an added dose of frustration as we created more close-range chances than before but failed to capitalise on them. If anything, this half was more one-sided than the first - Preston seemed content to attempt to contain us and attack on the break, hoping for a winner. They only came close to getting it once - a breakaway attack that left a striker with a chance from a tight angle. He fired his shot towards the bottom corner but missed by a few inches with Miller helpless. Other than that it was just long range stuff.

Again, though, our attacking play was too nervous - passes went astray, movement was poor, Dev was crap - and that's where the lack of a creative midfielder is going to hit us very hard. Again, it comes down to lack of squad players - let's face it, Craig Ramage wants away so that leaves us with only Gary Porter. What happens when Porter's injured (as he will be for the next three months)? We play Penrice in midfield. Now, Gary Penrice is a busy little player, he's not going to put his foot on the ball, look up and see something that opens the opposition defence up. He's going to play short passes in midfield and generally bustle about. Which is not what we need. He's got the skill, I don't think he's got the vision. Perhaps some of the Holdsworth money will find its way into Kenny Jackett's pocket so that he can sign some players to form a squad rather than just a team.

The only exception to the predictability of our attacks was, once again, Wayne Andrews. His pace is unbelievable. There are occasions when he just puts his foot on the accelerator and careers past defenders (sometimes he remembers the ball too) at a speed that leaves them with no alternative but to bring him down. Which is what they generally do. One of Preston's defenders can count himself a little fortunate to have stayed on the field after bringing down Andrews as he turned and started to accelerate away (part of the problem is that referees don't appreciate how quick he is - if he's turned his defender forty yards from the goal, he's going to be out of sight by the time he gets into the box). There was also an extremely good shout for a penalty when Andrews turned inside the box and appeared to be brought down within clear view of the referee. One thing's for sure - if you were a central defender, Wayne Andrews would be a bloody nightmare to play against.

As the game wore on, we finally got on top. Preston began to tire and we were stronger than them - the result was that we started to get chances inside the box rather than long-range efforts. We should have scored several times in the last fifteen minutes. First, Mooney had a far-post header than bounced into the ground and seemed to be about to go over Mimms but somehow the keeper got a hand to it - it dropped in the area but Dev's attempt to knock it into the gaping net was blocked by a defender. Then Palmer flicked a free header over the bar from a corner (we created a lot of chances from corners in this match - gawd knows why, we're really not that good at them). Dev was again involved as a far post cross was headed down under challenge and the ball appeared to be lost between two defenders before Mimms grabbed it.

We began to despair - it didn't look like it would be our night. That feeling was increased when Wayne Andrews came about as close as you can get to scoring with actually, erm, scoring - again it was a corner and the ball was flicked on to Wayne in the six yard box. He didn't connect too well with his effort but any contact appeared likely to take the ball over the line. Heaven knows how, but a defender managed to get enough of his body in the way to deflect it back into play - I think he cleared it with his hip, he just hurled himself at it.

As we arrived in injury time (Ig's Pet Hates Number 362: Referees who stop their watches while players are wasting time. Some of us have trains to catch, y'know), we piled forward and won another corner. This time it happened. Eventually. All I can say is that STUFF HAPPENED in the six yard box - there was a melee of players with Dev involved at least once, the ball was twice cleared off the line by defenders as our players appealled that it had gone over, then finally it fell to Steve Palmer who slammed it in from a couple of yards out. The celebrations were delirious, both on and off the pitch. I swear I saw one of our players asking the referee whether we'd REALLY scored a goal...

There was hardly time for the customary last minute try-and-lose-a-lead panic but we did our best to fit it in, not wanting to disappoint the punters - most of us were too busy having fun to notice that Preston were up the Rookery end looking for an equaliser, though. The victory was celebrated with appropriate vigour - our first home League goal in open play, after all, and hopefully a platform on which we can build a half-decent home record.

Not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing game you'll ever see (we're saving that for Wrexham, no doubt) but you don't get marks for artistic merit. It was a mixed-up affair - in awarding the Man of the Match, I could have picked a name at random, really. Some players were poor - Richard Johnson was largely anonymous in midfield (the sooner Palmer returns there, the better); Dominic Ludden's had more assured games; Darren Bazeley appears to be losing confidence again; Devon White was just inexcusably terrible and only there as a Trojan horse. Others were occasionally excellent, occasionally not excellent - Nigel Gibbs, who's been given back the captaincy in Page's absence and should get a bloody contract NOW, was masterful in dealing with Preston's attacking threat but looked lost whenever he left his own half; Gary Penrice had rare moments of quality amid his usual over-complicated, drop-back-into-midfield-and-fart-about nonsense; Tommy Mooney was frequently disappointing but still could've had a couple of goals and been the hero of the night. Nobody was consistently great, so Steve Palmer gets the accolade just for doing what he gets paid to do for 90 minutes, then adding a bit of much-needed overtime in the 91st.

We're a few players short of a decent squad. Trouble is, we've been a few players short of a decent squad for about ten years now. Some of those players are injured - Kevin Phillips, David Connolly, Gary Porter and, erm, lots of others - but in other areas, we just have to do a bit of strengthening. For example, we badly need a centre forward who can do more than give away free kicks (it's scary when you see your centre forward practising hitting the net from two yards out before the game - schoolkid stuff, surely?). That does require money, unfortunately. Not a huge amount of money but more money than the current amount available for players (nowt, nil, zero, nuttin', sod all). It's called investment and it has to happen.