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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 31/1/98
Chesterfield 0(0)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Palmer 3, Page 3, Millen 3, Mooney 3, Thomas 3, *Hyde 4*, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Robinson 4
Subs: Noel-Williams (for Thomas) 3, Lowndes, Ward
Scorers: Noel-Williams (87)
You can't beat it
Report by Ian Grant

Some days just rule. Some days your mailing list team plays a crucial top-of-the-table game early on a freezing Saturday morning, your manager comments that "we'll be happy with a draw" and you win eight flippin' one. Some days your proper team travels to some remote location without any creative players, all the fans think "we'll be happy with a draw" and your substitute scores an out-of-the-blue winner in the last five minutes. Some days you feel just a little blessed.

At Chesterfield, the script was followed to the letter for eighty-six minutes. That script involved your traditional hard-fought goalless draw - the kind of match, with its aggressive insistence, that's never quite as tooth-explodingly dull as non-football fans would have you believe yet doesn't come close to achieving the peaks of excitement that football fans thrive on either. Like The Bill on a Thursday night, it's just there, something that's neither so dreadful that you feel obliged to find something else to do nor so precious that you feel guilty about pressing the mute button and talking over the top.

For the first thirty minutes, I was faced with writing a report about nothing. It brought to mind a classic issue of Amiga Power when, in the absence of any decent games to review, they devoted dozens of pages to an in-depth analysis of the Kennedy assassination, including a full reconstruction of the murder scene in their office. I mean, it wasn't that bad, it was just football without incident, a game full of industry and application that got nowhere near producing a goal - Tommy Mooney's free kick, which sailed over the bar while the Chesterfield keeper put his feet up, was about as exciting as it got.

Fortunately for you, things did improve. I say 'fortunately' because, had the first half not resulted in anything worth describing, I'd have been forced to fill space with a spirit-crushing analysis of why "93 Til Infinity" by Souls Of Mischief is a work of quite fantastical genius and some vegetarian pasta recipes. But it did get better and I do have something to write about so we'll save all that for a rainy day.

By half-time, Watford had the upper hand. Clear-cut chances were still virtually non-existent - Micah Hyde had an effort charged down in the area and Keith Millen came close to bundling his way through - but there were signs of the away side making some headway.

If all this sounds rather laborious, then that's because it was - this wasn't a pretty performance. Remove Ronny Rosenthal, Peter Kennedy and Alon Hazan (not forgetting longer-term absentees like Stuart Slater, Wayne Andrews and, erm, Darren Bazeley) from the Hornets' attacking options and you've got something that comes rather close to resembling last season's over-workmanlike outfit. Jason Lee was great in the first half but, unfortunately, he was great on the right wing - that's rather indicative of our lack of width throughout the game. Add a general lack of movement to that absence of width and you've got some rather predictable forward play.

So the first half was sterile but solid. The second half, on the other hand, was sterile and a bit runny. While Alec Chamberlain only really had to make one save, collecting a long range shot with ease, Chesterfield did manage to find and waste some extremely promising positions. They had a goal disallowed, the whistle having gone some time before for a foul on Paul Robinson, and also carelessly discarded the best chance of the match as an unmarked Spireite blasted the ball over the bar from around the penalty spot.

For the most part, however, we held out for the draw. That was less through lack of ambition - Graham Taylor's teams don't play for nil-nil draws, simple as that - than necessity but the effect is much the same. A Steve Palmer long throw bounced across the six yard box with Robinson straining but unable to apply the finishing touch; a Dai Thomas header flew wide. But that previously-noted lack of creativity looked like restricting us to a scattering of distant sightings of goal - quite simply, we never looked like scoring.

If there was hope of a goal, it came through Micah Hyde. Obviously conscious of his team's failings, he became increasingly visible as the match progressed. While it would be fair to say that his efforts never yielded too much, he was always the one looking to provide movement, width, the telling run into the box, the killer pass for the forwards. In a team of players being themselves, Micah Hyde was prepared to try and be the player we needed.

It's still slightly hard to believe that this game didn't end goalless. An air of grudging acceptance had descended over Saltergate long before Gifton Noel-Williams stole the show with one moment of utter class. Chesterfield fans will argue with the result, probably rightly, but the finish was worthy of winning a match. As he collected a pass with no support, there seemed to be nowhere for Gifton to go - yet suddenly he was sidestepping the goalkeeper's lunge like a matador, biding his time as defenders panicked and flicking the ball into an empty net with the outside of his boot. Wonderful, wonderful goal.

You can't beat it. Winning away with a last-ditch goal is something else, especially when you'd settled for a point about half an hour previously and extra-especially when it takes you that bit closer to promotion.