Report by Matt Rowson
Gutted. A last minute goal in the dying embers of injury time... absolutely heart-wrenchingly disappointed.
For about fifteen minutes. But in less emotional reflection, having recovered from the initial disappointment, I'm actually quite cheerful. Why ? Well, other results for one thing, certainly went our way... City's defeat at Plymouth not least.
More important than that, though, was the nature of today's game. Oldham, admittedly, are not going through the best of spells, and confidence was noticeably lacking, particularly from younger members of the team. Nonetheless, this was a tough game, one of the toughest of the season on paper, with Oldham boasting a home record of only one league defeat at Boundary Park thus far. Make no mistake, it should have been two.
Watford started the game with the eleven that started the Carlisle game, but with the noticeable addition of Alon Hazan on the bench, who had played for the reserves in midweek. As against Carlisle, the Hornets gave themselves the best possible start to settle any nerves; Darren Bazeley's third goal in four games was an absolute peach, curled round the keeper into the corner from what looked well outside the area.
For most of the first half, Watford were the better side. It wasn't rip-roaring stuff by any means; again it could be argued that we didn't get many attempts on target. However, Hyde was on his game making surging runs from the centre, Palmer was again making his presence felt alongside him, and altogether Watford's side looked confident, whilst Oldham were in a bit of a mess. Bazeley nearly repeated his goal with another audacious shot which went just over. The nearest the home side came in the first half-hour came from a set-piece on the edge of the area, which was laid off for a shot which ballooned out for a throw in.
Towards the end of the half, there were signs that Oldham might not be dead and buried. Littlejohn, signed from Plymouth during the week, was always their biggest threat, and his duel with the excellent Page was one of the highlights of the game. Matthew Rush on the right flank was also giving Robbo a bit of a hard time, and almost scored when he ran onto a cross from the left, only to volley into the side netting right on half time.
Less impressive all round was Oldham's number eleven Paul Reid who, having won one free kick with a blatant dive (and failed with equally unconvincing springs on other occasions) went into the book himself for a petulant foul on Micah at the end of the half. He did not have a good afternoon.
Neil Warnock obviously had a few words to say at half time, as his side came out looking positive and dangerous. 37 year old Andy Ritchie, on as a half-time sub, came close, shooting across the face of goal before Littlejohn finally got the better of Page, equalising with a blistering shot.
This rejuvenated the home side, who were suddenly battling for every ball, their self-confidence restored. GT responded with a double substitution which once again completely changed the shape of the game. Hazan and Foley came on for Robbo and Easton, with Bazeley dropping back to right back and Gibbsy moving across to replace Robbo on the left. This was possibly a deliberate attempt to negate the influence of Rush, and if so it worked... Rush was later substituted.
Gibbsy's biggest contribution was yet to come however. Quite how he ended up on the edge of the D, dead-centre, lining up a shot is still a bit of a mystery to me (although I seem to remember a luscious 1-2 with someone... Jason Lee ?). In a style almost completely unlike a full-back with a strike rate of one goal every two seasons, Gibbsy drew back and let fly. Disbelief reigned as the ball flew silently into the top corner. As with Gary Porter's almost crucial goal at Norwich almost two years ago, time seemed to slow to half-pace. The ball hit the net... I'm sure everyone in the ground heard it. A millisecond of incredulous astonishment...("yes, that WAS Nigel Gibbs"). Then mayhem. Euphoria. As with Mooney's winner against Rovers, I found myself wondering how to possibly make enough noise to do justice to such a beautiful moment. Gibbs charged over to the corner to be mobbed.
Oldham's heads dropped once more, and they didn't really threaten again until right at the end. Watford entered their most convincing spell of the game. Jason Lee was absolutely immense... not quite terrifying as he was against Preston, but winning every ball, rarely if ever actually losing it, and causing all sorts of problems for Oldham's back line. A wonderful indication of his new improving confidence was his interaction with the travelling fans, in particular a Mooneyesque waving of fists and encouragement as he lined up for a corner. Sadly, I doubt whether he would have done the same at the Vic in front of some of the myopic elements of the home support.
From this corner a header flashed desperately wide of the near post with the keeper stranded. Yes, a near post corner, delivered by Alon Hazan who is welcome to take every corner for the rest of the season on this evidence. His contribution was, as against Preston, a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous... a couple of wonderful crosses from the right which so nearly beat the defence completely, but he also gave the ball away in a couple of dangerous situations.
Special mention also for Dominic Foley, who had his most convincing outing by a long chalk. Tenacious, almost aggressive, he also displayed no small measure of skill in linking up with Lee and Hazan in this period, and one piece of control as he effortlessly brought down a long pass straight to his feet was a joy.
It doesn't pay to dwell on what happened in the 96th minute too much. The ref added on a lot of injury time, and frustratingly seemed to forget to indicate how MUCH he was going to add on, which only seemed to add to the feeling of injustice. But we should have been concentrating, and should really have had the game safe by that point. The bottom line is that we have deserved four points from our games with the Latics this season.
We played well.
Alon is back.
Kennedy, Slater and Andrews are returning.
And the Horns are going up.