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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 25/10/97
Grimsby Town 0(0)
Watford 1(1)
Team: *Chamberlain 5*, Bazeley 2, Robinson 4, Page 4, Millen 5, Mooney 5, Noel-Williams 4, Hyde 3, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Rosenthal 3
Subs: Palmer (for Page) 4, Easton, Smith
Scorers: Rosenthal (1)
Fish and bananas
Report by Mike Scofield

Never have so many (us fans), owed so much to so few (the defence). The phrase "Watford started brightly" can never have been so apt. The kick-off, a high ball up to Gifton Noel-Williams who heads it down and left to Rocket Ronny Rosenthal on the edge of the area, who spins and sends a left-foot shot across the keeper and into the net off the far post. The visiting supporters (having been pleasantly welcomed in Cleethorpes pubs, with very nice fish and chips), stood for a moment in stunned disbelief, and much jigging about ensued.

At this stage, the football equivalent of the Battle of Britain began. Grimsby, realising that we had three men up front, (and Bazeley at right back) took absolute control of the midfield and started to knock the ball around very pleasantly. Every pass of theirs went to a black and white shirt, as did every hoofed clearance of ours. They attacked us in unstoppable waves, with their two front men, Lester and N***n, showing off some excellent ball control and off the ball running, which Darren Bazeley just could not cope with. There was always a man free, in the space that Bazeley should have been covering, and the crosses came raining in.

Fortunately for us, they were up against Mooney, Millen and Page at their brilliant best. Particularly Mooney who was aggressive and reliable in the tackle. Even though Grimsby seemed to have clear openings on goal every time they attacked, they seemed a bit reluctant to actually shoot. When they did, they were almost always off target.

It was very strange to watch this, and to remember that we were actually 1-0 up. In fact Dr Dave, Pete, Ian Lay and I, started to laugh out loud, as it really was comedy of Shakespearean proportions. We started to chant, "We're shit, and we're 1-0 up" and "Pass in a minute, we're gonna pass in a minute". As it went on, the spirit of the Blitz began to surface in the crowd, as we realised we could be watching one of those games, that will become Watford Folklore into the next century. Towards the end of the first half, they had yet another good break, and Lester, a tricky striker, beat three men to put in a rising shot that Alec Chamberlain pushed over the bar - terrific save. Page was booked for a harmless looking tackle and was very annoyed (does that mean he is going to be suspended?).

The defence continued to dive, slide, block, and hoof, but still Grimsby kept passing it around and running into space. At last, we got possession for more than 10 seconds, and the ball was flicked up to GNW near the penalty spot, but with only the keeper to beat, he headed it pretty tamely and the goalie saved easily.

The ref, who was very young looking, was interpreting the rules relating to shirt pulling in a very liberal manner - ie if the shirt is yellow, pull as much as you like; if black and white, immediate free-kick. Half- time was a welcome relief, especially to Alec, who had earlier put his hands together in mock prayer as he retrieved the ball yet again for a goal kick. Much laughter all around. Rupe said that Grimsby could not possibly play that well in the second half as well, and I hoped that GT would put in place a 'cunning plan'.

When the players came out for the second half, it was clear that the 'cunning plan' consisted of removing Robert Page from the pitch and replacing him with Steve Palmer (who had laughed a lot at the pre-match rendition of "Walking along, smoking a bong"). We presumed that it was because GT did not want to risk a second bookable offence and the sending off that would have sealed the points for Grimsby. Palmer played okay, and with Robinson playing a little deeper, things were not quite so bad.

Unfortunately, poor old Baze was still struggling and several times Hyde and Johnson expected him to continue his runs down the wing, only to find that having put the ball into space, DB decided that he wasn't going any further and the ball went straight off into touch. The daft thing was that apart from DB, no-one was really to blame. It was just that the opposition were playing rather well.

After 15 minutes or so of the second half, we did start to get some passing moves together, mostly because Nogan started to hang a bit deeper, and some of the threat he had previously posed was removed.

GNW headed just wide, and put in some good runs. One of them culminated in RRR's pass that GNW and the keeper slid in together for, GNW hitting the post from an acute angle and being left on the floor in a crumpled heap. Robbo had another go from a free-kick a-la Fulham but it went just over the top, and RRR had a couple of runs at them that came to nothing.

Lee also headed just over from a good Robbo cross, but was causing us to be annoyed with him again, as he continually failed to put in enough effort if the ball did not fall at his feet or chest. He played well enough when in space, but if challenged, invariably capitulated.

Grimsby looked less threatening but forced Alec to tip the ball onto the bar brilliantly and in general he looked to be a class act in goal. Again lots of crosses came into our area from Bazeley's wing as he left his man unmarked too much (I really don't mind Baze as a player, but this was another very poor performance - maybe there is just no-one else left un- injured in the squad, how else do we explain the decision by GT to leave him in the team?). Alec dealt with them all well, or else Millen, Palmer and Mooney got their heads in to clear or to put off the opposition.

Having played more than 5 minutes of injury time, the whistle finally blew and, just like the Luton game, the players (realising that this was the kind of victory which shows that someone up there likes us) came over to us en masse and joined in the celebratory chanting and jigging.

We definitely were not the better team today, but the defence comes out of this with great credit (one exception of course !). Hyde and Johnno ran about a lot, to little effect (they did not play badly), but to be honest we were outplayed by Grimsby, until they got to the penalty area. Still the victory was all the more sweet for it being so 'hard-earned'.

So, six points clear at the top, even though the last two games have been anything but convincing. As we left the ground, we had very wide smiles on our faces, that could have seen us eat bananas sideways!

The great escape
Report by Dave Perahia

Those who know me may be aware that I have a tendency to blame ill- fortune for setbacks on the field rather than the shortcomings of our boys. If we lose, it's not because our striker is hopeless or our defence disorganised - it's because someone "up there" hates us. God, Lady Luck, whatever you call it - it's always THEIR fault. Like "The Times", they hate Watford and that's all there is to it. Except today. Today I was forced to admit that maybe Lady Luck has burned her Luton shirt, flushed her Manchester United scarf down the bog, wandered down to the Watford ticket office and bought a season ticket for the Vicarage Road End. If any of the travelling faithful actually believe that the Horns deserved to win this bumper Grimsby fish fest, I beg them to get some therapy. Fast.

The day started well and got better. Out on the ale in Leeds with Aidy Spender on the Friday night, we arrived hungover at "The Leaking Boot" near the ground to be greeted by a bar full of familiar faces in Watford shirts. One pint of local sludge (sorry, beer) and a fresh fried haddock later, we were behind one of the goals at Blundell Park with a goodly contingent of travelling Horns. My levels of anxiety increased with the news that Kennedy was still out and that Bazeley had kept his place at right back. Slater was also still out, and the team was a carbon copy of the one that had laboured so unconvincingly to victory against Fulham earlier in the week. The general consensus of those around me was that we'd be satisfied with a draw in what was felt to be a tricky fixture against an improving Grimsby side.

Watford started the game kicking towards the away end (always a good omen as far as I'm concerned) and before we had even had a chance to settle in our seats and start to concentrate on the game, The Golds were one up after 39 seconds. A ball up towards the edge of the Grimsby box was expertly flicked on with his head by Jason Lee. Rocket Ronny controlled the ball with his back to the Grimsby goal, swivelled round to wrongfoot his marker and placed a perfect left-foot shot along the ground into the far corner of the Grimsby net via the upright. Cue joyous madness among the weary travellers, and one-nil to the Golden Boys.

Grimsby took possession of the ball from the resulting kick off, and didn't give it back for the rest of the first half. To our increasing consternation, wave after wave of scary-looking Grimsby attacks rained down on our goal without a moment's respite. Time and time again the nippy Grimsby front line of Nogan (wash your mouth out !) and Lester tore through our defence. Donovan tied our left flank up in knots, and crosses repeatedly bombarded the Watford goal. Alec Chamberlain was superb - cool under immense pressure - and Mooney, Millen, Robbo and Page were all working overtime to clear our lines.

Grimsby were also guilty of some pretty poor finishing. A Lester shot was curled past the left upright, and he and Nogan seemed to be cutting through the middle of our defence with ease. A Grimsby free-kick smacked the underside of the crossbar and rebounded out. All this was occurring right in front of the travelling fans who must have looked to observers like a cinema full of fourteen year-olds watching a horror movie - repeatedly shielding their eyes from the unfolding trauma and clutching each other for support as latest goal-bound effort was blocked or hacked away. Page got an early booking, and seemed to be less than his normal decisive self until his half time substitution for what I assumed to be a knock. Bazeley was a liability at right back - frequently out of to position, not getting his challenges in and unable to complete even the simplest of passes. Johnno and Micah were simply overwhelmed in midfield, and other than our goal, I can recall no occasion when the ball was in the Grimsby half for longer than a few seconds. And yet we survived until the halftime whistle with our goal intact. The whistle was greeted with relief and incredulity that we were still winning. "Get Bazeley off, stick Palmer on" seemed to be the general consensus. We sat joyous but dreading another 45 minutes of Grimsby pressure.

Palmer was on as the second half kicked off, but for Page and not Baze. The team was otherwise unchanged. And the onslaught recommenced. But now it was worse. All the action was occurring at the other end, and from my position low in the stand, every Grimsby shot or cross (and there were bloody tons) seemed to be going in. After about 20 minutes of further agony, including a magnificent Chamberlain save when the ball was pushed up onto the crossbar and a goalline clearance, a few of us started to sing the theme from "The Great Escape" as it seemed to sum things up better than anything else we could think of. Gratifyingly, the song was taken up by our fellows, and a rousing rendition followed. And somehow, the game began to change. As time started to run out, Grimsby brought on two more strikers at the expense of defenders and midfielders. Instead of intensifying the Grimsby bombardment, this had the effect of freeing up space for our midfield and we began to make a real impression upfront. The previously anonymous Gifton started to run the Grimsby defence ragged, also hitting a post. Ronny was through but shot tamely at their keeper. Even the subdued Lee had two on-target shots at goal, although neither troubled the keeper. I'd say we were probably the most likely to score for the final 20 minutes. The final whistle brought massive relief and an ovation from the travelling Horns. The players appeared to sense an extra significance in having won this game, and took time to applaud us for our support for longer than usual.

There's a saying about your name being on the cup, seemingly winning when you have no right to and beating the odds. There was a real sense after the game that if we could get three points after the hiding we received, someone up there must like us. Maybe God is a Watford fan.....

A little fortunate
Report by Ian Lay

I was going to start this report with a "It's a long way to Grimsby..." theme. Going via Nottingham is not the best way to go about it! Then I was going to list a number of different types of fish and explain the delights of cooking them in a variety of interesting ways (Not on my web site you don't - Veggie Ed). I'd also considered making a list of all the grounds that a steward has had a word with Dan Exeter for making rude gestures to opposition players; but it would have taken too long. However, after 90 minutes of what can only be described as exhilarating football, I can only think of three words...... The Great Escape.

On the way home on Sunday, Heidi, the little screaming one, and I stopped off at my mumís place. This gave me a chance to have a look at the Watford Observer from the Friday. I was scanning through the first few paragraphs of Oliver Phillips report for the Fulham game. His feelings were that Fulham could count themselves very unlucky to have been 1-0 down at half time. I cannot imagine what he is going to write about Saturday's first half. Maybe something like "Grimsby were so unlucky to be 1-0 down at half time that they made Fulham look lucky to be only 1-0 down at half time the previous week".

So, if you are getting the idea that we were a little fortunate on Saturday, then you wouldnít be far wrong. A combination of excellent defending, excellent goalkeeping, a large dollop of luck and the trusty woodwork enabled us to come in at half time 1-0 up.

Grimsby had a free kick which smacked against the crossbar, several headers and shots just wide of the post, another shot palmed onto the crossbar brilliantly by Chamberlain and numerous other chances which I have forgotten. And Watford.... well, we scored a goal after 36 seconds.

Most people were still settling into their seats preparing for a tough game when we shocked the home crowd with the fastest goal I can remember Watford scoring. A clearance from Chamberlain was headed on to Gifton by Lee. Gifton controlled the ball and flicked it into the path of Rosenthal, who sent a low left foot shot in off the keeperís left hand post.

So 1-0 after less than a minute. After 45 minutes, fortunate still to be 1-0 up.

I thought that the second half would take a different turn, and in the end it did. But the opening 10 minutes were much like the previous 45. Except this time we didnít score in the first 36 seconds. However, Grimsby nearly did; Chamberlain pulling off a brilliant full length save to turn the ball onto the crossbar and then away to safety by Mooney.

But things started to change. However good a side is playing, if you donít score then you lose the momentum and eventually the opposition is going to come back into the game. This is what happened and we had a number of chances to increase our lead. Johnson, who had had a poor first half, came much more into the game and started to control the midfield more. Which allowed us to get the ball out to the wings and get some decent crosses in. Gifton rattled the upright with a header from one such cross, and also headed another just wide. Gifton then hit the post after pouncing on a mistake by the Grimsby defence. The goalkeeper just doing enough to put him off from a tight angle. Lee also had about three headers which maybe he should have done better with. Robinson also had a free kick which went inches over.

Grimsby had their chances too. Chamberlain was called upon to make several good saves and Mooney cleared off the line for the second time in the match. But as the second half went on I thought it was us that were more likely to score, particularly since Grimsby had changed their tactics somewhat and were pumping long high balls up field which were easily dealt with by the three centre backs.

In the end no further goals were added to the scoresheet. And we came away with a 1-0 win that, though we probably didnít deserve, we had worked hard to achieve. Grimsby must feel hard done by not to have got something out of this game, because they deserved at least a point. But it doesnít matter how well you play, if you don't take your chances then youíre not going to win games.

All in all though it was a very satisfying game of football. Even though we were under the cosh for most of the first half, I enjoyed watching us defend well. It is sometimes just as exciting to watch good defending as it is to watch good attacking. And even though at times Grimsby were running us ragged, we always did enough to put the player off when it came time to have a shot. Forcing him a bit wider to make the angle more difficult, pressuring him into shooting too soon, or shooting off balance. These are all parts of good defending, and although the Grimsby players were also guilty of not putting more shots on target, it was as much the Watford defenders as it was Grimsby not taking their chances that attributed to us taking all three points.

As for individual performances...well, here is a run down.

Chamberlain : Excellent. Produced 3 or 4 saves which any keeper in the world would have been proud of. And a number of other good ones. Looks so solid coming for crosses. My man of the match, just shading it from Mooney.

Bazeley: Itís easy to be harsh with him. He has the skill, and it is only his second game back. Made some good challenges and interceptions in the opening 15 minutes but faded after that. Not the answer to the right wingback role on this form. The ideal wing back would be a combination between the best bits of him, Gibbs and Melvang. Any surgeons out there??

Robinson: A solid game. Defended competently, got some good crosses in. Not as good a wing back as Kennedy, but heís getting there. Iíve got a lot of time for Robbo and I hope we see more of him this season. Iím sure we will.

Page: Went off at half time, for reasons unknown. Was getting run ragged at times but still put in a fair performance.

Millen: Good game from AC. Got into good positions, made such important clearances. Solid and reliable as ever. Coped with the pace of the Grimsby attack a tad better than Page did.

Mooney: Pick of the defenders. Canít remember him losing a header all game. Made two goal line clearances, and generally worked his arse off.

Hyde: Continues to frustrate. Does some good things but makes some absolutely horrendous errors. Like Johnson, he had a below par first half. Unlike Johnson, he didnít improve in the second.

Noel-Williams: Pick of the forwards. Hit the bar twice. Went close on a couple of other occasions. Definitely in a rich vein of form at the moment. Just needs the goal that his efforts deserve.

Lee: His flicks are getting read better now. Though he still needs to impose himself a little more on the game. Had chances to score. Will be disappointed he didnít put more of his efforts on target.

Johnson: Poor first half, but very good second half. Not one of his more creative games, but battled and hassled like we know he can.

Rosenthal: Generally not as good as he has been in recent games. Didnít make as many mazy runs as we have seen. But he scored the goal that won the match which is the important thing.

Palmer (for Page at half time): Played very well. Added a little more stability to the defence. Always reads the game well, and Saturday was no exception.

All in all, Chamberlain and the defence won us this game. Grimsby in the first half were the best team I have seen this season. The fact that they didnít sustain it through the game was due to a fair bit of good fortune and a battling Watford side that deserve praise for not getting disillusioned when they were under heavy pressure. If you are going to go up, these are the kind of games you need to win. Last season we would have got stuffed. The fact that we didnít is a clear indication of how the team has developed over the last few months.

Funny moments from the day:

1) The announcer calling Clint Easton, Clint Eastwood!!! Deliberate or accidental? I leave you to make your own mind up.

2) Chamberlain putting his hands together to indicate he was praising God for divine intervention after another shot had just hit the bar and gone over.

3) Dr. Dave, Pete Fincham, Adrian Spender and myself shouting out "fish, haddock, cod, rock, herring" etc. at every possible moment at the Grimsby keeper in the second half.

4) The crowd singing "You only sing when youíre fishing"

5) Dan Exeter getting talked to by a steward yet again for making obscene gestures to the Grimsby players and the ref.

6) And best of all, singing the tune to the film "The Great Escape" late on in the second half when it looked like were we going to win a game we didnít really deserve to.

Six points clear.......I really canít believe it.