A timely reminder
Report by Ian Grant
You win some, you lose some. We won some - the Watford mailing list team achieving
a mighty 2-1 victory at Spurs on Saturday morning. And we lost some - the other
Watford team blowing a chance to open up a really serious gap at the top of Division Two. To
be honest, the former, requiring a half past five alarm call, tended to overshadow
the latter - sleep seemed vastly preferable to yet more shouting.
But my fatigue shouldn't have been reflected on the Vic Road pitch. After last
season's 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Lions, I wrote a report under the
title 'A Timely Reminder' - Millwall had come to town and shown us that
promotion wasn't going to be a walkover, that poor-to-average performances
against the division's best sides wouldn't be enough. And so history repeats
This wasn't an exceptionally dreadful display - certainly no worse than
Gillingham or York. Given some decent finishing, we might even have won. The
difference was in the strength of the opposition. Millwall, so often a
pointlessly physical side in the past, appear to have focused their aggression -
Wilkinson's typically ragged ill-temper aside, this was a disciplined performance
that posed more problems than we could cope with.
Apart from a ten minute Watford blitz at the start of the first half and a late
spell of frantic pressure in injury time, the away side controlled the play. They
beat us at our own game, chasing our midfielders outta town to shut down any supply
route to the wingers and forwards. The consolation in defeat is that it's
unlikely to happen very often - there aren't many teams fitter and stronger
than a Taylor side.
That stormin' start, anyway. With Millwall stuck in neutral, we passed the ball
smartly, providing Stuart Slater and Ronny Rosenthal with the possession
required to run at their defence. The crucial goal nearly came - a devastating
move ended with Jason Lee misplacing the final ball; a Nigel Gibbs cross
caused a bit of penalty area mayhem; Rosenthal shot wide after a weaving dribble;
Jason Lee had a header blocked on the line.
But, just as the initial tide of expectant noise from the Vic Road end subsided, so
we lost the momentum. The Millwall midfield kicked into life and set the agenda
for the rest of the game. Our play lost all its dynamic thrust as passes went
astray under pressure - before long, we resorted to thoughtless long balls up to
Lee, who spent ninety minutes flicking the ball on to Nigel Spink in the Millwall
Unable to retain possession, we found ourselves being battered by a sudden
wave of Millwall attacks. Credit to Robert Page and Keith Millen for preventing
the away side from having any serious opportunities - the fact remained, however,
that we'd lost control of the game. Things did calm down a little towards
the half hour mark but only, I suspect, because Millwall were catching their breath.
When it came, the goal was a fair indication that we'd lost our heads. It seemed
that Watford players had countless opportunities to clear the ball but failed to do
so - perhaps I'm being harsh here, perhaps they were merely looking for a productive
pass rather than an aimless hoof, but the Millwall attack that came down the right
wing seemed extremely avoidable. In the end, the ball was played across for
Shaw to apply a calm finish, passing the ball low into the bottom corner. Millwall
were worth their lead.
That seemed to put a little bit of fight back into the Watford players and
we'd had our closest effort of the half, a Peter Kennedy free kick that whistled
inches wide, within a few minutes. Despite being able to claim the better
chances of the first period, we went in at the interval without having forced
Spink into a save of any significance. Bearing in mind the success that these
players have produced since August, one hesitates to say that we miss Kevin
Phillips - we do, though.
Having seen four minutes of the second half with little change, Graham Taylor
replaced the ineffective Slater with Gifton Noel-Williams. If there's been a
connecting thread through our games this season, it's been the success or failure
of our wingers - when they're given the ball, we look unstoppable; when we don't
have that width, our attempts to go through the middle tend to look rather unconvincing. It
says much about which type of game this was that the best Watford crosses
of the match came not from Kennedy or Slater but from Nigel Gibbs.
The substitution, fiddling with the symptoms rather than causes, made little
difference to the pattern of the play. We were still being hassled and
hurried into mistakes in the midfield and, consequently, failing to get
round the back of the Millwall defence. Personally, I would've brought Steve
Palmer on to apply a steadying influence in the middle - but I've no idea whether
it would've worked.
Millwall, confident enough to commit a few men forward after the break when
they could've just protected their lead, managed to look the more dangerous
side without ever really turning that impression into reality. They had a
couple of moments - Richard Johnson deflected a goal-bound
effort away; Alec Chamberlain tipped a deflected shot over the bar as it threatened
to loop over his head - but our defence was generally good enough to prevent
the killer second goal.
Aside from a clear-cut opportunity for Noel-Williams, who was denied superbly
by Spink's legs but was in a position where the striker must be blamed for not
scoring, there seemed little chance of an equaliser as injury time commenced.
Whether the substitutions - Dai Thomas and Steve Palmer for Tommy Mooney and
Nigel Gibbs - made the difference or whether Millwall became over-cautious as the
final whistle approached, Watford had the chances to pull off an undeserved draw.
Rosenthal headed wide when unmarked, Lee scuffed a shot off-target - had the
roles been reversed, Lee using his head and Rosenthal his feet, one of them
might well have scored.
A defeat isn't necessarily a disgrace. The bloke behind me, who seemed just a
hair's breadth away from calling it a day as a Watford fan, had it all wrong -
sometimes you have to look not at your own players but at the opposition. Sometimes
you have to have a bit of grace.
So if this result finally makes us (players and fans) realise that promotion will only be achieved
by another six months of bloody hard work, it's probably not a bad thing. Strangely,
and despite all the disappointments of last season, some still seem to think that
the championship is a formality. Millwall proved that it isn't, Millwall proved
that there is some serious competition in this division.
Frustration and hope
Report by Matt Bunner
I, like many on Saturday, left the ground feeling frustrated, perhaps
more than I ever have done because we had failed to beat Millwall at home
when we all expected to do so. I can only assume that has come from our
success this season; after all, if you have won 75% of your games, you
expect to win.
The story of the whole match is that Hyde and Johnson were outplayed in
midfield. Not often will I say that, but it was true on Saturday.
Johnson had one of his rare poor performances; he just couldn't do
anything right and was largely responsible for the goal, but he will
always fight and he knows this was an off day. Of more concern was Hyde,
who seemed to be very slow and by that I mean in mind and body. Millwall
hustled and Hyde was found wanting. Maybe I'm being unfair because he
has played very well this season, but when it comes to the muddy pitches
in the winter he could just disappear.
Lee had a superb chance after a minute but dallied and Gibbs fired a
centre across the goal that was gasping for a Watford toe and Lee had a
goal-bound header blocked on the line. After that it was largely
stalemate, but Millwall's passing was looking more assured. In the 37th
minute, the ball came to Johnson, who inexplicably tried to head it back
to Chamberlain from all of 30 yards. Not surprisingly the ball didn't
reach, yet was diverted from landing at Grant's feet by some superb rear
guard action by Page and Millen, but we were always struggling to clear
the ball. Johnson and Hyde both had chances to boot the ball into the
Red Lion, but chose to pass their way out and were left with their
shorts hanging down when the ball found Shaw on the edge of the area and
then the net. Extremely bad play. I would like to think Taylor had a few
words about that. A few minutes later Kennedy put in a free-kick that
was inches past the post: it would have been nice to have been level at
half-time but I don't think we were worth it.
This season, I always feel we can score goals more than the opposition
even if we go behind: that feeling wasn't there last season. Based on
this sound principle, I thought we would come out all guns blazing and
blitz the Millwall defence, but unfortunately somebody had replaced the
guns with blocked pea-shooters. There was only one real chance for the
'Orns when GNW was put through and shot straight at the 'keeper. Ronnie
had free header but only found PC plod and Lee scuffed a shot on the
edge of the area when in acres of space. Millwall had other chances to
score: a good save from Chamberlain pushing over a deflected shot and
Johnson blocking another Shaw effort. Despite the frantic effort at the
end we didn't get close.
I think they deserved it because they played with confidence. Watford
didn't play well because they didn't seem to have confidence. Millwall
will always be well organised but Watford can raise their game to a
higher level. It's a shame this didn't happen because we would have seen
a cracking match. It's no surprise that when we struggle the root cause
is lack of width: being dominated in midfield leads to the wide men
pulling in. On Saturday we had the players but Slater spent most of his
time on the inside right channel and not on the right wing. Ronnie tried
his best but he's only one man.
I'm sure the players are itching to get back on the pitch as soon as possible and show
what they can do and seems almost appropriate that we have a fixture so
soon against Fulham. There's no more incentive than to perform in front
of Keegan and Wilkins when your pride is hurt. I've a feeling it could
be a Watford party.
Just before I sign off, I will write a few words about some of the
Millwall fans. There were a select few who spent the whole of the first
half goading Watford fans into a fight. Only two or three took the bait
but were stopped by the police. It was laughable. Yes, laughable. If, by
some chance you're one of those Millwall fans after aggro, people were
actually laughing at you because you were so pathetic.