Pre-season friendly, 12/7/97
Team: Chamberlain, Melvang, Kennedy, Page, *Millen*, Mooney, Bazeley, Hyde, Lee, Palmer, Flash
Alania Vladikavkaz 2(0)
Scorers: Kobiacvili 2 (1 pen)
Report by Pete Fincham
In a performance that encouraged from the outset, Watford dominated much of the game against a Russian team who have had recent experiences in European competition against the likes of Liverpool, and who more recently pulled off an emphatic victory over Spartak Moscow the weekend before. However, a set of refereeing decisions as yet unparalleled in the modern game, sparked furious debate both on and off the pitch, as Vladikavkaz sneaked the win with a magnificent final goal.
But for the first 45 minutes it was a story of all Watford, and they took a deserved lead on the half hour, as from a succession of corners, trialist Micah Hyde drove home from the edge of a crowded area to set the assembled five Watford fans into jubilation. Hyde, delighted to have scored, played a magnificent game, adding the much lacking dimension in midfield of being able to run with the ball. It was this running that worried the Russians, as a set of diabolical fouls on notable Hyde and Flash showed their visible frustrations.
Manager Graham Taylor was delighted with the first half performance, suggesting that if the result were to stay the same, it would be "one of the greatest results in Watford's history." Indeed, until a spot of Russian diving near the penalty area in the 73rd minute, it did indeed look as though Watford were to record their first victory in Lithuania. But the referee stuck to his precedent of ignoring the obvious theatrical behaviour of the Russians and pointed to the spot as Kobiacvili fell under a gust of wind. He duly got up to blast home a very well taken penalty.
Alania progressed to the final courtesy of a superbly taken goal following a rare piece of Russian magic. As a long ball was played through the middle, the keeper got his head to the ball 25 yards out, but goalkeeper Chamberlain who had performed with all the magnificence of his predecessor Miller throughout the match could only head out to Kobiacvili, who from all of 40 yards out placed a first time shot underneath the crossbar.
It was a match that ended in superficial disappointment for Watford, as despite losing a match which in the grand scheme of things was meaningless, they certainly impressed beyond all hopes. Alania are currently midway through their season and are certainly one of the better teams in Eastern Europe. However, with Mooney deployed in the unfamiliar role of centre back, and new faces Hyde, Melvang, Lee, Kennedy and the relatively untried Flash all starting the game, Watford should have been well pleased with their performance. Kennedy and Melvang offered choices wide, while Hyde and Flash controlled the midfield despite tough tackling from the Russians that bordered on the level of assault we thought had been eliminated from the modern game. Furthermore, despite getting several kicks throughout the game that led to his eventual withdrawal through injury, Jason Lee played in the role of the forward man with great aplomb. Millen was awarded the Man of the Match award, performing with his usual level of effectiveness against the very physical Russian side.
The second game of the day provided an unsurprising 2-1 win for local side Kaunas against BSC JAC Bardejov from Slovakia, setting up the Russia v Lithuania final all television stations and assembled journalists were hoping to cover. Wasn’t luck on their side!