The luck runs out
Report by Ian Grant
Some days just suck. Some days getting to a game feels like
wading through treacle - the Clapham to Watford service is cancelled (and no-one at
Connex thinks that their customers might consider this to be useful information in planning
their journeys); your train falters just outside Euston, stands stationary for ten minutes
then trundles sheepishly back whence it came; you arrive at the Junction twenty minutes before kickoff to discover
that today is the Taxi Drivers' Union National Day Of Rest. Some days watching your team
being beaten seems like part of an on-going nightmare. Some days you feel just a little
The song from the Vic Road end went "Sh!t on the telly, we're always sh!t on the telly" and the song was
right. The sooner the new board of directors can strike up a deal whereby Sky never ever
cover Watford games, the better - in the meantime, a giant "Do Not Disturb" sign at Vicarage Road ought to
convince everyone to leave us in peace.
Added to the team's traditional stage fright, my late arrival meant that I was unable to indulge
any of my superstitions (except the superstition about it being generally more satisfying to arrive
at a game before it's ended and that was touch-and-go for a while). I couldn't
even buy a programme at all, let alone buy it from my lucky programme seller. All
in all, quite clearly a recipe for utter disaster.
And so it proved. Mind you, it shouldn't come as that much of a shock - anyone who was
at the Priestfield for September's away game ought to remember that, prior to the arrival
of Stuart Slater, we were getting fairly well murdered. This was a repeat performance,
Gillingham's pacy attacks scything through our hesitant defence and forcing Alec Chamberlain
to keep the score respectable. We couldn't deal with it then - we salvaged a draw thanks to a
dodgy penalty and a Johnno wonder-strike - and we can't deal with it now.
It wasn't that the away side dominated. Talking about possession is the last
refuge of the dreary partisan - Gillingham were sharper, simple as that. In a sense,
Watford's chances were carved out despite their football, yet Gillingham's goals
were the pinnacle of a tactically smart performance.
They should've scored more. While Watford fans will rightly argue that the Hornets
deserved a goal or two for a second half fightback that showed determination if nothing else,
this was a game that could've been lost in the first twenty-five minutes. Chamberlain's stunning
reflex save to deny Steve Butler, after the former Watford striker had controlled a cross,
turned and shot like Rolf Harris turning his hand to Picasso, set the tone for the first
Smith broke through for Gillingham minutes later, only to see his slightly indecisive
finish saved by the Watford keeper. But Chamberlain could do nothing about the opening
goal - Richard Johnson mis-placed a pass and in an instant Akinbiyi was charging through
to fire a shot across goal into the bottom corner. Our defensive problems didn't end
there - just a minute after the goal, Southall was given a free shot from the edge
of the box but scooped the ball over.
We paid a heavy price for that early bout of defensive frailty. Gillingham retreated, happy
with the lead and even happier with the knowledge that we were looking very, very vulnerable
to the quick counter-attack, and left us to huff and puff in front of their goal. Which
we duly did. We won a few corners, we stuck a few dangerous crosses into the box but it was
nearly half-time before Peter Kennedy had our first on-target effort, a drive straight at the
keeper. To be fair, we did get closer than that as Johnson's flicked header from a corner
was booted clear from the line.
The half-time changes did improve things. Steve Palmer came on for a below-par
Gifton Noel-Williams, allowing Tommy Mooney to push forward and redeem himself for a quite
appalling, error-strewn first half.
But the real problem is more fundamental, the real problem is lack of movement. In
recent games, we've been too static and too obvious. Micah Hyde is leading the way, he's bounding
about all over the field in search of new options, but no-one is following. Late in the
second half, Hyde stumbled his way through the midfielder, went sideways around the penalty area and
ended up surrounded by Gillingham defenders - throughout that wayward run, Watford fans
were screaming at him to look up when the fact was that he had looked up but no-one was
making themselves available. We shouldn't have to wait for Rosenthal, Hazan or Slater to
provide that movement - it's pretty fundamental stuff.
Gillingham remained by far the more penetrating side and proved the point early on
as Butler was again denied by Chamberlain, this time with a smothering block to stop a
rather tame shot. Yeah, we had loads of the ball; yeah, we had corners; no, we didn't
really look capable of turning things around. It took an eternity for the first Watford
chance of the half to appear - again it was Kennedy with a well-struck half-volley at the
Eventually, however, we did get somewhere. To be precise, Mooney evaded a defender
and hit the bar with a hooked shot after a corner was flicked on at the near post. It was
as close as we were going to get - sure, there were a couple of gorgeous crosses from
Nigel Gibbs that sent the Gillingham defence into a panic (without adequate movement, the
potency of our attacks is directly linked to the quality of our crossing) but it wasn't
enough and the Gillingham keeper was never really called into action.
Up at the Rookery, we were still being cut to ribbons. Not as frequently - the away side
had no reason to over-commit - but still with alarming ease, Gillingham sped past the
Watford defence and threatened to kill the game off with a second goal. Only yet more
emergency measures from Chamberlain delayed that goal as he got a hand to a low cross and
managed to push it away from a striker at the far post. But it was only a delay and, with
injury time approaching, Akinbiyi struck once more - left in enough space to build a DIY store,
he calmly stroked a shot into the bottom corner.
There was still enough time for Kennedy to force the Gills' keeper into his first
exercise of the afternoon with a free kick from the edge of the box - but it would only
have been a consolation.
We were well beaten.