A Graham Taylor game of football
Report by Ian Grant
Bigger goals? Instant replays? Bans on tackling? Blindfolded goalkeepers? Pah!
Football's a perfect game and tinkering only takes us further away from the ideal. After all, duff
decisions only add to the sense of injustice which, it seems to me, is a very vital part
of a supporter's protection from disappointment. As for the goalless draw, that's such an
essential element in football's appeal that I find it deeply insulting that FIFA could even
consider the possibility of eliminating it.
If you wanted to put a case for football's defence, you could do worse than this belting
match. Proof that, while goals are the tangible measurement of excitement, true drama
emerges from the ebb and flow of the game itself. More goals would have made this less dramatic,
not more. There have been more memorable wins this season - and I'm sure I don't have to
elaborate on that - but there probably haven't been more exhilarating matches. You
really couldn't have written a better script.
With Watford badly needing a morale and points boosting victory, we saw all that and
much more. We'd have been very satisfied with a comfortable win...but would we have been
on our feet, screaming our joy at the heavens, giving the players an almighty ovation? Of
course not. This sends us soaring into the Walsall game.
For the first time in too long, Watford looked like promotion material. Not perfect, not
without problems, but infinitely more confident and ambitious. That has less to do with the
enforced changes (although I do like Steve Palmer in midfield), than with the return
to form of key players - Ronny Rosenthal, Gifton Noel-Williams, Richard Johnson.
Crucially, there was movement - more forwards making runs in and around the box, more attacking
defenders, better crossing positions. The Rovers defence, hardly the most efficient
in the division, couldn't deal with it. Even before the first goal there had been
chances - most notably, Rosenthal heading wide from a right wing cross.
That the additional punch up front comes at some cost to our own security is of little
consequence - most of us were brought up on attack-attack-attack football from Taylor's Watford
teams. Besides, generally speaking, Robert Page, Keith Millen and Nigel Gibbs are more than a
match for opposition forwards, while Alec Chamberlain stands in the way of anyone who
does get through. Again, this was demonstrated in the early stages, Millen cutting off
a Rovers break in its prime with a thoroughly decisive intervention.
So things were looking good. We no longer look stagnant. And, for once, we were able
to turn spells of possession into chances and chances into goals. Even so, Noel-Williams'
open came out of nowhere - a long ball from Chamberlain finding its way through into the box, where Gifton and Ronny fought among themselves for the honour of forcing a shot
past the Rovers keeper.
The second, just six minutes later, was almost as simple in execution. Fine work from
Clint Easton and Tommy Mooney on the left wing created space for a cross to pick out
Rosenthal in acres of space. Ronny's control was sharp enough to leave the keeper stranded
in no man's land and he was able to lob the ball neatly into the net.
The rest of the half reflected the scoreline. Apart from a run and tame shot by Beadle,
Rovers only rarely threatened the Watford goal. Noel-Williams aside, the Hornets didn't
run riot - they just competed harder, used more intelligence in their forward play than we've
seen for weeks, showed some quality.
Throughout, Gifton made much of the difference between the two sides. One run late
in the half, surging from deep on the left all the way into the box and to the bye-line, was spookily
reminiscent of Bruce Dyer at his best - pace, power and skill in single-minded harmony. Mind you,
he still managed to waste one of the best chances of the half with a weak header straight at the keeper.
Otherwise, Richard Johnson smacked in a sizzling drive that the keeper fended off as much as
saved - most of us would've just got the hell out of the way. From the rebound, Dominic Foley
was unfortunate to lift the ball over the bar. Which, it has to be said, was Foley's one
intervention in forty-five minutes of football that almost entirely passed him by - yes,
he did improve as the game went on...but that's really not much of a compliment.
Just in case anyone's compiling a dossier of evidence against Jason Lee, we missed
him badly. Let no-one point to this game as an example of Lee's absence
causing us to play better. It simply isn't true. We played better despite Lee's
suspension, not because of it. The knock-downs from crosses, the flick-ons from long balls,
the strength in holding up the ball, the simple involvement in the game - Foley has
none of these, Lee has them all.
If you want proof, let's look at the second half. That Rovers emerged from the dressing
room with their ears ringing was to be expected. We were always going to be under
pressure in the first ten or so minutes. Ultimately, we were extremely unlucky not to
weather the storm. Yet our inability to make the ball stick up front when it was cleared did the defence no favours
at all - in that respect, we needed Jason Lee, we needed someone strong.
That said, the defence isn't exactly exempt from blame for Rovers' second half
revival. Bearing in mind Wednesday's fiasco, it's surprising and not at all encouraging
to see Watford players standing stationary appealing for offside as an opposition
forward speeds towards goal - you'd have thought we'd have learnt that linesmen sometimes
make mistakes. Still, that opposition forward was Peter Beadle and he didn't let us
down, giving the advancing Chamberlain a relatively easy save with an indecisive
Rovers pulled a goal back seconds later and, as I've already mentioned, it owed everything
to luck. The corner that had resulted from Beadle's chance was eventually cleared and
a speculative shot was fired in - it took a colossal deflection, sending it arcing away
from Chamberlain and in off the post. You just can't stop goals like that.
If it had been a good game until that point, it just got better. For Watford fans,
the nerves started to show. We were still an attacking force - Gifton, in particular,
was making a habit out of bamboozling whichever Rovers defender happened to be nearest - yet
the lack of a target man was beginning to tell. Foley's overhead, which went straight
at the Rovers' keeper, was our best effort - beyond that, though, we had plenty of
clever play but too little brute force. As has happened so often this season, some parts
of the jigsaw - in this case our creative play - fall into place just as another piece - the
centre forward - goes missing.
The game was perfectly poised for an astonishingly dramatic finale. A Rovers equaliser
was unthinkable - we'd worked so hard to get ourselves in a winning position, it was
so vital that we came through. Yet a Rovers equaliser was what we got, and so late in the
day that it seemed doubly cruel. Hayles went on a jinking run down the right wing, exposing our
inadequacies on that side (Clint Easton is not a defender, no siree). As he cut into the area
and went round Keith Millen, he was brought down.
The spot-kick twisted the knife even more. Cureton's kick was poor, Chamberlain saved
relative easily with his body, we all jumped up to celebrate our escape. But Cureton
reacted first to the rebound and the ball was forced home, leaving Watford fans gutted
and Rovers fans jubilant.
You know how it is when you get a gut feeling about something? I got it against Luton -
but it was wrong, we didn't win. This time it was right. Somehow I felt we'd score. As I said
before, the script was perfect - the game was vital, the Rovers comeback was almost vindictive,
the stage was set for a late winner. Cometh the hour, cometh the Mooney.
It goes back to what I was saying about brute force. Sometimes you can score a goal
just by wanting to score it so much that the impossible becomes possible. Dominic Foley, and
I'm not trying to be unfair to him, will never score a goal like Tommy Mooney's winner. Receiving the
ball just inside the area, Mooney just ploughed his way through the Rovers defence, digging
his way out of tackles, fending off challenges, ignoring simpler lay-offs. Somehow, like
the winner of an egg-and-spoon race through the Amazon jungle, he emerged from all this
with the ball still at his feet. The angle was ridiculously tight, so he took the only
option open to him - he just twatted it. We followed its path, expecting to see it whizz
across the six yard box and out for a throw...but it hit the net and the Vicarage Road ended
exploded. Mooney stood there, hand cupped around his ear, until he was swamped by
players and fans. One of those moments that you never forget...
God knows what would've happened if Rovers had equalised again. They should've done too,
Beadle wasting a free header from close range - it hit the outside of the post but that didn't
disguise the fact that he had no excuse for not scoring. If I hadn't seen some of the
evidence with my own eyes, I'd be convinced that Peter Beadle's goals were fanciful lies
spread about by his agent.
If this doesn't propel us into the First Division, absolutely nothing will. Watford
versus Bristol Rovers was, if you know what I mean, a Graham Taylor game of football.
At flippin' last.
Best of both halves and sides
Report by Matt Bunner
It was one of those games where you were not sure of the result until
you heard it on Sports Report, such was the action contained within the
last 10 minutes. I do like these type of games: end-to-end stuff and
last minute winners (ours of course). It makes the journey so much more
Taylor again announced a different side to that which played the week
before. Today we had match-stick man Clint Easton in at left midfield
with new on-loan signing Dominic Foley up front, in place of the
suspended Jason Lee. Very surprised that Dai Thomas didn't get a start -
I wonder how he must feel seeing someone signed on loan going straight
into the first team? Micah Hyde was ruled out with a knee injury and
rumour has it that he could be out for weeks.
The initial exchanges were very encouraging for Watford as the absence
of the target man meant we had to direct everything via the grass.
Easton was looking particularly inventive on the left, producing lovely
inter-play between Mooney, Rosenthal and GNW. The first meaningful
action saw a cross from the right headed just wide by Rosenthal. On the
quarter hour, a ball was gently lofted towards Rosenthal and GNW who
were between two Rovers defenders. The ball was allowed to bounce twice
as Rosenthal and GNW left it for each other, but just as the 'keeper
advanced, GNW toe poked the ball under his body and the ball trickled
into the net.
Rovers were restricted to counterattacks with the lively, but
agricultural, Hayles a threat. Beadle had a chance to even things up,
but snatched at a shot. Just before the half hour, what seemed an
innocuous ball was guided across the Rovers area. The 'keeper rushed
out, but then stopped assuming that the Rovers defender would clear the
danger. The defender, seeing the 'keeper, left it alone and Ronnie
hooked the ball over his shoulder into the empty net. It was at this
time and after that Watford produced some superb groundwork. A lovely
turn by GNW on the left enabled him to roast the right back and cut a
super ball back for Palmer (?) to side foot towards goal. The shot was
blocked with 'keeper firmly parked on the ground. Minutes later, Gibbs
and Rosenthal interchanged to set up a Johno special. The half-volley
with the left foot was hit with stunning power and the 'keeper failed to
hold on to the shot. The ball spilled to Foley who had to react
immediately, but unfortunately diverted the header over. It was really
the half that shouldn't have ended as Watford could and should have been
Rovers couldn't play any worse. They failed to get stuck in and things
had to change. They were snappier and more lively on the break in the
second and had Watford for some periods pinned back in their half.
Whether we intentionally sat back, I don't know, but even at 2-0 we were
looking slightly uncomfortable. We still managed to hit them on the
break, with good play, most notably from the right in Gibbs and GNW.
Then came a turning point. The ball was pumped forward looking for
Beadle. At the time Hayles was trotting back on side, but only 10 yards
from Beadle. Hayles was CLEARLY offside, but as the Watford back line
did an 'Arsenal' and threw their hands up and waited, it left Beadle
with a one-on-one with Chamberlain (I've said that three reports running
now!). As we all know, Chamberlain is gaining a reputation for
one-on-ones and thanks to the Lord he came up with goods. However, we
were still under a pressure from the resulting corners. From one of
these corners, the ball was scrambled to the edge of the area. A Rovers
player had a shot that was pin-balled towards the goal. Chamberlain
stood rooted as the ball hit the post and dropped behind the line.
Rovers scented a point and threatened with their creativity and swift
breaking. Hayles was starting to look more dangerous and one particular
run on the right took him past Easton and he delivered and ideal ball
into the area but luckily no-one was there. However, we still
counterattacked well and forced a couple of good saves from the 'keeper.
Nine minutes from time Hayles set off on another run down the right.
There were at least two, if not three, Watford players around, but he
still managed to keep the ball. This run was nearly identical to the
previous one, except this time he cleverly cut in knowing that he could
get a penalty. Unfortunately, Millen left a trailing leg and that was
it. I was praying for a miracle and I leapt out of my seat as
Chamberlain saved another one-on-one. This time, there was an
unfortunate ending. The ball ricocheted to Cureton, the taker, and from
an acute angle hit the ball past an off-balance Chamberlain. The ball
was helped in by about 10 Watford players. This event had the desired
effect on Watford - I think it dawned that they could get only a point
from a game that was for all intense purposes wrapped up.
I don't know how the winner was created, but all I know is that Mooney
got the ball inside the left portion of the penalty box. Despite two
attempts from Cureton to bring Mooney down (if he had, would a penalty
result?), Mooney managed to keep the ball and from where I was (miles
away), appear to drill in a low cross. The next thing I saw was the
right hand side of the net bulging. Cue mass hysteria!!!!!! I must see
the angle from which he scored - I wonder if it was similar to the
Plymouth goal a couple of weeks back? On my watch, that was 90 minutes,
but that wasn't the end of the action. Right at the death, Beadle,
coming in unmarked at the far post, had a golden opportunity to
equalise. His header brushed the angle and the post - phew!!!!
I'll tell you that was a needed victory, but what was encouraging was
the manner in which the game was played by both sides. Is it a
coincidence that Lee's absence created the football that we saw today?
At least it bore out Taylor's strategy of going out to win games if it
means losing them. I can't wait for Slater on the right and Rosenthal on
the left feeding a hungry front two - GNW and one other. Who that one
other is may only be answered by Taylor, but my money's on Lee, only if
we play the ball on the ground.
Looking forward to Tuesday, but with action a bit more one way!