A-weepin' and a-wailin'
Report by Ian Grant
There's a saying round my way - "Failure is easier to take if you haven't got a
porcupine down your trousers." Wise words, I think you'll agree.
To be honest, I could just copy and paste large chunks of my Wycombe report and
save myself some work here. The same arguments apply - the lack of patience
shown by Watford fans is deeply disturbing. At times it's as if cheering the
team on or encouraging certain players is seen as an implicit endorsement of
the poorer aspects of our performance.
This is depressing. If ever there was a case of a team suffering under the
weight of expectation placed upon it, it's the Hornets right now. To expect
to beat Plymouth is fine and natural, to allow that to be expressed in howls of
anguish at the slightest mistake is absurd. No-one can perform at their best
under those conditions.
It's not all that difficult to explain why we've slowed down in recent weeks. Our
all-round play remains broadly unchanged, we're still creating enough chances to
win games by considerable margins. What we're not doing is finding the net
with any regularity. Earlier in the season we'd have buried two or three first
half chances and gone in smiling at the interval - the difference really is
We weren't within farting distance of 'great' in the first half. But 'dismal'
was at least a bus ride away too. Mind you, I'd prefer it if we didn't have a
repeat of the first minute, when Argyle's early attack bundled its way through some
feeble Watford defending and a shot hit the outside of the post.
Beyond that and another break that threatened disaster before Tommy Mooney intervened
with a fine defensive header, Plymouth offered little to bother us. Our approach
play might've been a stuttering, error-prone affair but it still yielded some moments
of real promise - a page of notes, at any rate.
Richard Johnson, one of a growing list of players in need of a goal or two, had our
first effort, a curled shot that was saved without difficulty. Then, as if to
prove that luck has temporarily packed its bags for west London, Paul Robinson fed
Gifton Noel-Williams and his looping cross (I assume it was a cross, anyway) hit the
inside of the post before the rebound was scrambled to safety.
There was more where that came from as Robinson, Mooney and Kennedy all went on
runs that finished with strong attempts at goal. But the clearest opening went the
way of Jason Lee, who sent an unmarked header way, way wide. Lee's role in our
build-up work remains generally sound but his finishing is currently unspeakable.
I'll admit that I'm giving this something of a glossy finish in a vain attempt
to prove a point. But you can get the dull, objective version of events somewhere
else. We owe these players - the same players that have given us the best start
to a season in, erm, goldfish's years - a little bit of patience and generosity.
Who knows, there might even be some points in it for us...
So the second half was played to a soundtrack of virtual silence punctuated by
much a-weeping and a-wailing from the home fans, something that surely
accelerated our decline into a hesitant, nervous shambles. The fact that Plymouth,
who'd been typically resolute before the break, grew in confidence with every minute
hardly helped matters - they might've scored early on when Robert Page had to hook a goalbound header clear.
Despite gradually losing our way, there was still no question which side looked more
likely to take the lead. Johnson sent a volley a foot wide with the Argyle keeper
stranded; Lee inexplicably headed back across goal when he should've scored and surprised
Noel-Williams so much that the youngster got in a complete tangle; Keith Millen
fired over from the edge of the six yard box.
But, as time passed, our attacks became increasingly predictable. By the time
Paul Robinson gave way to Nathan Lowndes, we were actually as devoid of ideas as
the pessimists would have you believe we have been for weeks. Hurrah for Nathan, then, as he
sped around, looked as eager as someone who's spent thirty-eight years in the reserves
ought to be and generally put the wind up the Argyle defence. Indeed he could've
scored within seconds of his arrival but couldn't get enough power on his header and
saw it comfortably saved.
Unfortunately it was the Hornets' defence that gave way first as the game opened up in its
final stages. We'd already had a scare - a shot into the side netting after a break
down the right - and Plymouth eventually saw their positive approach rewarded. Another break
ended with a header at the far post that gave Alec Chamberlain no chance.
If the mood was frustrated beforehand, it became even more frantic after the goal. But as
defeat loomed large, up popped Mooney to win the ball from a Gibbs cross and fire a
low shot across goal into the far corner. Even then we could've snatched an unlikely
win as a defender wellied another clever Lowndes cross (for a Nathan Lowndes
Fan Club membership pack, including ginger wig and tangerine candyfloss, send a
blank cheque to the usual address) agonisingly close to his own goal.
So there you go. Half full or half empty? Three quarters full, if you ask me...
Report by Dave Perahia
I don't know about you lot, but as I get older the meaning of Christmas
is changing. As a youngster, it was all about the sweet anticipation of
opening those presents on Christmas morning, stuffing my face with
biscuits, satsumas, chocolate, turkey and Christmas pudding to the
extent that I had to fight against the urge to bring it all up again,
and sitting in front of the box with the family watching enough T.V. to
make me see double. As I got older, watching the Boxing Day movie was
replaced by trips to see the Hornets with Dad and whichever non
football-supporting relative we could tempt with the promise of
atmosphere, excitement and an escape from turkey cold-cuts. Now I'm
approaching the big three-zero, if I'm lucky enough to be off work at
Christmas, the whole thing has come to mean a damn good rest, good food,
see the folks and do sod all.
Christmas also means lots of footy, with a whole load of games packed
into a two-week period. Unfortunately, this 'feast' of footy is rapidly
becoming something I dread. Perhaps it's because we're a 'nice' family
club and don't believe in pushing our poor players too hard during the
festive period. Perhaps the players collectively eat too many biscuits,
satsumas, chocolate, turkey and Christmas pudding to the extent that all
they can think about is how sick they feel. Or perhaps it's just me, but
watching Watford at Christmas has become dull, dull, dull. It's enough
to make the Boxing Day movie seem alluring. Even if it is "The Sound of
Music" (again). Gillingham and Notts County last year, Plymouth this -
the Curse of Christmas comes to the Vic.
After the Wycombe non-event on Boxing Day, I confess I was looking
forward to getting back on the winning trail against Plymouth. Shocking
recent form including a 4-1 home reverse on Boxing Day to media darlings
(and Ig's favourites) Fulham and only one away win all season. Lambs to
the slaughter. Those around me at the Vic end were predicting we'd score
5 or 6 (and one nameless person predicted hat-tricks for Gifton and
Jason Lee - you know who you are !). I reckoned on one or two-nil. I
should have known better. No surprises when the team was announced,
Kennedy continuing in the 'hole' behind the strikers as Ronny was still
crocked and Robbo on the left in his place. A fair number of home fans
in the ground. An air of expectation. And then the game began.
Any complacency in the Watford ranks should have been dispelled within
the first minute. A mazy run forward by a Plymouth player led to Carlo
Corazzin, Argyle's Canadian international, finding himself through and
one on one with Alec Chamberlain. His toe-poked shot eluded Alec but
struck the outside of our right hand post and went out for a goal kick.
An early let off. Plymouth continued to belie their lowly league
position with a number of useful looking early attacks, their number
nine continually running at our defence and giving Gibbo in particular a
torrid time. Our most noteworthy attempt of the first half was what
looked like a cross from Gifton which curled over Jon Sheffield in the
Plymouth goal and struck the inside of an upright before being scrambled
clear. Jason Lee had a clear-cut chance from a superb left-wing cross by
Tommy Mooney, but headed powerfully wide from an excellent position. We
created little else of note, and as is becoming increasingly familiar at
the Vic of late, the crowd became restless. Too many mistakes, too many
misplaced passes and too little skill or imagination. The half finished
without even a disallowed goal to cheer unlike against Bournemouth or
I was as usual relying on GT to give the boys a half-time rocket, but if
he did, they didn't seem to pay any attention. The game continued in the
same scrappy and unsatisfactory way, although more pressure was brought
to bear on the Plymouth goal. A number of crosses were flung in, but
most if not all seemed to be ably dealt with by the Plymouth defence.
Johnno managed a cracking volley from the edge of the area which flew
agonisingly wide, and Keith Millen scooped a driven cross over the
crossbar. And yet, despite the Watford pressure, Sheffield in the Argyle
goal hardly had a shot of note to save.
As the game drifted towards an unsatisfactory nil-all bore draw,
Plymouth seemed to realise that we were really nothing to fear and
exerted some pressure of their own, forcing a series of corners. And
with four minutes to go, they got their reward. A cross from their right
wing was met with a powerful header at the far post and Plymouth were in
front. I was furious, but had to agree that we'd had it coming and it
was hardly daylight robbery. The fans immediately began to stream out,
and I sat head in hands contemplating the fact that for the second
season in a row we were to be beaten at home by a Plymouth side who are
likely relegation candidates. And then a small Christmas miracle. Tommy
Mooney had clearly become as sick and tired of the lethargy of his
Watford colleagues as the fans and strode forward. With seconds
remaining, he skillfully controlled a knock-down and drilled a low left-
foot shot into the far corner of the Plymouth net to equalise. My
celebrations were muted somewhat by disbelief - I had honestly felt that
the game could have continued for another 24 hours and we wouldn't have
scored. There was still time for one last Watford attack, but the threat
was cleared, and that was that.
I don't know much about tactics or team formations. I know nothing of
the way managers motivate their players or of the transfer wheeling and
dealing which occurs behind the scenes. But what I do know is that
performances like this are not good enough. Our forward line is simply
not doing the business, and we have lost the ability to play football,
now seemingly recreating the pattern of last season by aimlessly hoofing
the ball forward instead of passing. I've been criticised recently for
complaining about poor performances when we've won games, and even GT
stated in his programme notes that it's something to be pleased about
when the team plays badly but still wins. But the writing has been on
the wall for a while now - lacklustre performances, few chances created
and fewer goals scored. We started the season playing exciting football
and deservedly shot to the top of the table. Then the performances lost
their sparkle, but we continued to grind out victories. Now we're
grinding out draws, and we could quite frankly have easily lost the last
two games. We seemed almost invincible a few months ago, now we flirt
with defeat with regularity, pulling back from the brink later and
later. No crisis, of course, as our rivals seem unable to get
their act together, we are still miles clear of the pack. But still a
cause for concern.
Let's hope it's just the Curse of Christmas and we'll be back all guns
blazing in the New Year. Oh that life was so simple !