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97/98: Reports:

FA Cup 1st Round, 15/11/97
Barnet 1(1)
Scorers: Charlery (9)
Watford 2(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 3, Page 3, Palmer 3, Mooney 3, Noel-Williams 3, *Hyde 4*, Lee 4, Johnson 3, Rosenthal 4
Subs: Thomas (for Lee) 0, Smith, Easton, Robinson, Day
Scorers: Rosenthal (61, 67)
Snazzy football
Report by Ian Grant

I hate the attention more than anything else. That feeling of being watched, by television cameras recording every detail of a frighteningly ordinary lower division local derby and Premiership-bloated journalists making bored notes about long ball tactics and elementary errors.

Regardless of how self-assured we are, we all like to have our personal passions re-affirmed by apparently objective analysis every now and then. We'd love nothing more than to hear Alan Hansen rattling on at exhausting length about how Watford were a different class, clearly far superior to their Second Division competitors and destined for greater things. Indeed, one of the most satisfying aspects of the original Taylor era was that we couldn't be ignored forever and (supposedly) impartial observers were eventually forced to admit what the fans already knew - Watford were really rather good.

But, with all the inevitability of your favourite band playing a stinker on the night you've dragged all your friends along with promises of godhead, this was a game drab enough to be edited down to a couple of minutes of highlights towards the end of Match Of The Day. Proof, if it was needed, that there is much work still to be done before we can feel confident about shouting from the rooftops about this Watford side.

As yet, there have been relatively few signs of complacency after the riotous start to the season. Yet most of the first half at Underhill was spent waiting for the interval to arrive as Watford were out-fought and out-thought. We were more than a little fortunate to make it to the break without finding ourselves in an irretrievable position.

While Barnet were clearly intent on embarrassing their neighbours, the Hornets appeared content to place trust in 'professionalism' without bothering to work out what that might mean. As a consequence, ten minutes of Barnet pressure followed the kick-off - ten minutes that should've yielded more than one goal. Two shots went narrowly wide of Alec Chamberlain's goal - one a fine volley, the other a fairly criminal miss from the edge of the box - before the home side got the goal they deserved. A corner was flicked on and headed back across goal for Ken Charlery to prod in from a couple of yards.

That early setback appeared to shake the Watford players up a bit and, although we never recovered any kind of composure, we were never again all at sea either. The remainder of the half was a dreadful, cack-handed mess, all woeful passing and crunching tackles. I dare say some would've seen it as plain-speaking, salt-of-the-earth, take-no-prisoners English football. Me, I'd rather have my verrucas frozen out.

There were rare flashes of the football that this Watford side is capable of, mainly on the four or five occasions (no exaggeration) when Ronny Rosenthal touched the ball. Otherwise we alternated between the usual, wasteful high balls towards Jason Lee and hopelessly over-ambitious attempts to find that defence-splitting pass. At no point did we appear even slightly interested in stringing a few simple passes together to establish a rhythm for ourselves and make the opposition do a bit of work.

And at no point did we look even remotely like scoring. Aside from a fine Lee header, we were restricted to long-range shots - two thumping efforts from Peter Kennedy flying wide and Richard Johnson slicing an attempt into the advertising hoardings.

Half-time brought the chance of a re-think and saw the mailing list team lose a penalty shoot-out against the Barnet fans. Although it's tempting to say that Eddie Brimson's penalty taking is as bad as his books, such snidey sniping would disguise the fact that the 'Supporters United' idea, building bridges between the two sets of fans at their first encounter, is exactly the kind of practical initiative that the brothers' critics have been demanding. Full credit to them for that. The gesture was taken up by the Barnet keeper with his warm greeting for the away fans after the interval.

The second half began with a statement of intent from Watford, Johnson striking a firm shot and forcing the keeper into his first serious save of the afternoon. From that point on (if I may conveniently ignore a Barnet striker wasting a glorious chance with a ludicrous overhead kick in the first few minutes), we showed more of our class and less of our laziness. As usual, the midfield was the key, Micah Hyde emerging from the tangled mess to supply the flanks and forwards with simple, effective passes. To be honest, I'm already bored rigid with repeatedly describing how much better we are when resisting the temptation to welly the ball forward.

If Rosenthal's pace and skill eventually unlocked the Barnet defence, then Lee played a pivotal role in the more general revival. Simply, he held the ball up in and around the Barnet penalty area, enabling greater support for the forwards and more creative play in dangerous areas. The continued criticism of Lee seems bizarre to me - there is no better example, not even Rosenthal, of a player who's reliant on his colleagues and, at worst, he tends to make the most of poor supply.

The goal came from a free kick on the side of the penalty area - exactly the kind of position we hadn't got into in the first half. Johnson drove it across, Lee headed it back at the far post and Rosenthal chested it over the line. Having scored a solo effort from the halfway line a couple of weeks ago, this Ronny strike came from all of about two nano-millimetres. Excellent swinging-from-the-crossbar antics from Peter Kennedy at any rate.

The winner arrived just a few minutes later, Rosenthal running onto a through ball and finishing from a tight angle at the second attempt after an inspired save. After that, bar another, even more insane overhead kick (you could almost see the thought bubble appearing above the striker's head - "If Trevor Sinclair can win Goal Of The Season..."), it was all Watford. The rain resumed, the game subsided into a rather heartless, subdued exercise but we were happy enough.

Gifton Noel-Williams, who (not coincidentally) improved with the service to him, had a header saved after fine work on the wing by Lee; Kennedy wasted a great chance with a wild volley that span pathetically off his boot as he waited for the top corner of the net to bulge; David Thomas, on for the worryingly limping Lee, followed the general trend by belting the ball into the crowd from miles out when he could've run through on goal. While never thrilling the watching millions with our snazzy football, we were well in charge of the game for the final twenty minutes, a point illustrated by the complete lack of impatient whistles from the away fans as full time approached.

As with Northampton last season, this was a game we could've lost and didn't. Yet it's not a case of the ends justifying the means - had we played the second period like we did the first, we would certainly have joined Luton in 'concentrating on the league'. In the end we can gain encouragement from the revival, yet we should bear in mind that better sides won't give us the chance...