Report by Ian Grant
Magnificent. If past Watford sides have provided a benchmark for cup performances,
then this was well up to standard, only the previously noted lack of a killer
touch in front of goal preventing an even better result. For once, we didn't let
ourselves down with the cameras watching.
The three outstanding Hornets - Nigel Gibbs, Richard Johnson and Clint Easton - all
played like men with a point to prove. For Easton, that's obvious - as with
Nathan Lowndes, his first start of the season saw a busy, involved youngster
putting in his best display in a Watford shirt to date.
Johnson spent ninety minutes demonstrating that his blend of energy and imagination
flourishes in the less hustly-bustly Premiership-class midfield. On one
occasion in the second half, Johnson received the ball while Peter Kennedy loitered
in space on the left wing. The word 'wide!' had barely reached my throat as the pass
arrived at Kennedy's feet - there's no better illustration of the Australian's
Gibbs? Words fail me, frankly. He grabbed the chance to test himself against the
skills of Paulo Di Canio with both hands, out-battling the Italian until he
became a peripheral figure and switched flanks after the break. Gibbs was
That contest set the tone for the whole game. Wednesday kicked off, won a corner
and for a couple of minutes it looked like we might struggle. Then Di Canio
took on Gibbs and found himself foiled by a sliding tackle. And there it was,
GT's "they're not from another planet" comment proved in an instant. We didn't
look back. Indeed, Gibbs went on to provide one of the moments of the season,
knocking the ball past a bewildered Di Canio and collecting his own pass to joyous
applause from the home fans.
Of course, none of this ought to suggest that Wednesday were out-classed. Cup ties
are about playing to the limits of your ability - even the very best Watford
performance wasn't going to prevent the Premiership side creating chances. They
did so and we got lucky, Booth scooping a Carbone cross over the bar from close range.
In many ways, it was a familiar story. Our approach play was industrious, particularly
when it involved the lively Lowndes, but the end product always disappointed. The luck
that would push the ball into a striker's stride rather than just behind him continues
to elude us.
That pretty much sums up everything we did in the Wednesday half, particularly
before the interval. Lowndes volleyed over from a left wing cross; Micah Hyde
wasted a promising run with a wild shot. Such situations were producing goals
earlier in the season and will do again.
In truth, all that expensive talent didn't yield a great deal more for the
visitors. Alec Chamberlain was called into action just once in the first half, palming
a corner away then picking himself up to block the follow-up shot. Otherwise,
Newsome and Booth both sent free headers into the Vic Road end.
Down at the Rookery, Lowndes met a near post cross from Gibbs but his shot wandered wide. Then,
as half-time approached, a scramble in the box provided the debutant with his clearest
sight of goal - sadly, his instinctive prod drifted straight at Pressman.
The second half saw Watford gain in confidence as Johnson, Hyde and Easton took
control of the midfield. But, for all the possession, it was hard to see where
we were going to find a goal - our purposeful prompting meant relatively little
without a real cutting edge.
So Wednesday's goal appeared catastrophic. It was the classic counter-attack, Alexandersson
stealing in to meet Carbone's cross and head home while Kennedy was stranded upfield. At that stage,
a reward for our valiant efforts appeared unlikely.
The reply, however, was so swift that it barely merits a paragraph break. As Wednesday
sipped metaphorical champagne, we kicked off. Johnson marched forward, laid the
ball off for Hyde to do the same. Micah's run ended with a touch to Kennedy, who
dug the ball out from under his feet and sent a searing, gently rising drive past
Pressman. Ten seconds after the re-start, with Wednesday not having touched the ball, we
were level. The celebrations? Ecstatic is a good word.
For a short while, the utter madness of that minute meant we lost some of our composure and that
could've easily resulted in another goal. But Di Canio's acrobatic volley was met by
an equally inspired save from Chamberlain, tipping the shot over at full stretch. From
that point on, though, the Hornets regained their rugged determination and dominated.
I can scarcely imagine what would've happened if Nigel Gibbs' potent shot had hit the
back of the net - I suspect that this report would consist of little more than
drunken, joyful dribblings (don't say a word...). Unfortunately, Pressman saw fit to
spoil the fairytale by pushing the ball as it screamed towards the top corner. Then, moments
before the final whistle, Johnson mis-hit a volley that rambled its way through a
crowd of players and harmlessly wide.
So, yes, we were brilliant. Yes, we raised ourselves for a game against superior
opposition. But the difference is in expectations - we were better than we were
against Plymouth but, in objective isolation, not that much better. The lesson to be
learnt is that beating stubborn underdogs ain't always significantly easier than
competing with Italian internationals. Ask West Ham.
The same things were right against Plymouth and Wednesday. And the same things
were wrong. Go figure...
Out of character
Report by Dan Exeter
Like all the best cup matches, the Wednesday game was one of those
occasions very well attended by the locals. For me, this adds to
the atmosphere and feeling of occasion that the FA Cup deservedly
brings to all clubs, whether large or small. Matches like the
Coca-Cola Cup win over Leeds all those years ago and the defeat
against Blackburn more recently felt different, as the Vic when
it's nearly full is an entirely different proposition from the usual
10,000 or whatever that normally turn up. On both of those above
named matches, Watford produced a performance out of character with
some league performances just before each tie. So it proved with
After what I felt was a relatively indifferent performance against
Plymouth the previous Sunday I wasn't sure even if Wednesday would
bother sending much of their first team out. They did however, and
I'm sure Atkinson and their fans are grateful because we played
superbly through the match.
The first portents were not, for me anyway, too encouraging, what
with Gifton missing (we first noticed when we walked in front of the
Vic Road end dressed not in shirt and shorts but trousers and snappy
leather jacket) and Rocket Ronnie not risked. In came Nathan Lowndes
up front and Clint Easton in midfield, while Peter Kennedy moved to
his more habitual left wing back slot. For their part Wednesday had
an attacking line up, with Di Canio, Booth and Carbone all
At least as supporters Watford started one up over our Premier
counterparts - they only brought about 3000 down (I'm sure other
Premiership teams from cities smaller than Sheffield would have
brought rather more) and that number got reduced before kick-off when
their possibly most famous fan, the talismanic Tango (known as such
because he's fat, bald and never ever wears any sort of top no
matter what the weather) contrived to get himself thrown out of the
ground. After the players had left the pitch after warming up, a
loose ball was just outside the goal at the Rookery. He leapt over
the wall, ran onto the pitch, and put the ball in the back of the
net. Nothing harmless, more silly fun really, but he still got
chucked out anyway, which I thought was quite funny.
Anyway the match; If it was hard to tell at the Plymouth game which
team exactly was the one romping at the top of the league and which
one had just been stuffed at home on Boxing Day so it was hard to
tell between the team from the Premier League, with a total team
value running well into the millions, from the lower division team
whose total team value was mere loose change for larger clubs. Gibbs
did a magnificent job against Di Canio, who apart from one shot
brilliantly executed and just as brilliantly saved by Chamberlain in
the second half did little of note. Booth too was relatively
ineffectual against the might of Millen and Page in the air, and
although Carbone's close ball control and turns were occasionally
perplexing I think it's fair to say we contained him very well,
certainly better than a number of Premier League defences have this
Allied to a defensive resilience was some imagination and wit up
front. Before kick-off I thought Lowndes' lack of strength and pace
would bring him little joy up against the likes of Walker (who's
quick) and Newsome (who's strong). Yet he battled and toiled away,
playing with a confidence not belied by the fact he's yet to start in
the league. Jason Lee did very well too I thought, able to get into
more positions to provide more of a threat. He had a number of
headed chances, more than he's had recently that I can recall.
Micah Hyde deserves a special mention for turning in a performance
which hasn't been regularly seen since the long-gone days of summer
and early autumn. I still think he backs off a bit much (horses for
courses I know - I could easily be criticising him for diving in too
much) and his positioning isn't always what it should be but he ran
around everywhere, playing a lot of intelligent balls, providing
options, making runs and crossing.
For all our defensive resilience though, it was quite a basic
mistake that gave away the goal - Carbone was left free on our right,
and he had time and space to deliver a very good cross for
Alexandersson to head in from the right - Kennedy was lamentably many
yards behind, although to be fair to Peter (this being especially
clear on Match of the Day) when the attack started he was right near
the half way line and had sprinted all the way back to catch up.
What's more, he scored a cracking equaliser right from the kick-off,
when Hyde and Johno kept on running and moving, before Hyde passed
it out to Peter on the edge of the penalty box and he hit it straight
and true into Pressman's bottom left hand corner. The moment he hit
it I thought it was in - I don't think much of Pressman but he did
well to get as close as he did to the shot.
Just two more points; The pitch looked pretty awful, frankly, a
couple of times the ball bobbling uncomfortably for players, but
then I suppose that's what you get sharing the stadium with a rugby
team. Secondly, the atmosphere at the Vic Rd end was one of the
best I've experienced in recent years, I think in part because there
were a lot of regulars who on other occasions might have been
displaced by less common supporters - they in turn seemed all to have
bought seats in advance in the Lower Rous. Although for purely
personal reasons I would generally prefer to see tickets available in
advance for the Vic Rd end (because I live a long way from Watford,
ironically enough in Sheffield, so it makes my life easier if I know
that even if I do get held up in the traffic or whatever I can still
get in okay) credit where credit's due, on this occasion the ticketing
system worked a treat.
Report by Matt Bunner
I deserve a bloody medal. Yes I do. My preparations for this game began
after the draw with Plymouth based on the recommendations of the
programme. It stated that the match, for some reason, was not all ticket
but recommended that you purchase tickets in advance to avoid
disappointment. Armed with this information, I spent Monday morning on
the phone attempting to book tickets (for the first time I may add) by
credit card. Should be no hassle I thought, but unfortunately, when I
got through I was informed that bookings would only be taken from 9.00
am on Tuesday. Tuesday came, but the line was PERMANENTLY engaged and
with it being a New Year week, I decided to rough it and pay on the day.
Friday came and I had just shaken off the after-effects of the New Year
(I think Chard in Somerset know who George Borg* is now) when an invite
was issued to me to attend a piss-up in St. Albans. "Great!!", I
thought. Except that I have no wheels at present, so I would have to
take the train there and then come back early in the morning to pick my
Dad up and then drive to WFC to try and get in. No, too much hassle.
Instead I would take the train, stay overnight and phone my Dad and meet
him outside the ground.
Got up reasonably early Saturday morning and looked at the weather.
Wind, rain, cold, sunny, hail, thunder, calm, stormy, etc. I phoned home
and was informed that my Dad was definitely not going (more train
travelling for me then) and that the match was subject to a 11 am pitch
inspection. Luckily, the ref gave it the OK so I made my way to the
ground via a lift from the lovely Caroline (thanks you life-saver; I owe
you one!). When I arrived at the ground at around 2 pm I wandered around
to the Vic Road/Rous stand entrance expecting to pay my £12 and wander in:
but no! To my horror, they announced that the only cash entrance was at
the Rookery end! Surely they hadn't sold all the Vic Road end tickets
The queue to get in the Rookery end was up to the garage by the time I
figured what was going on. There must have been around 2000+ trying to
get in through just two turnstyles at about 2:10 - and the queue was
growing. I thought I was stuffed: all this effort and not get in. No
blooming chance!! There was no way I would get in the Rookery end and if
I jumped the queue, my clothes would have been ripped off faster than
Demi Moore's. Only one thing for it - get in the away end. This was
accomplished surprisingly easily and took my place, for the first time
ever, in the Rookery end. Five minutes later they announced that the
Rookery end was closing - there must have been about 2000 very pissed
off Hornet fans locked out. Surely if it was all-ticket, the bad
atmosphere I experienced outside would not have occurred?
After a massive rain shower, I was rewarded for my perseverance when the
great, the gorgeous Hels-Bells# turned up at sat three rows behind me!
It would have been easy for me to turn around a stare at her for 90
minutes, but I only managed about 20! No idea why she was there again
(she was there for the Torquay replay, being a Torquay fan), but I can
only assume she is attached to the Sheff Weds band as they were directly
behind her (oh, the Torquay band were better...). I made sure I got my
autograph at half-time, I can tell you!
The game? A stalemate first half with a couple of incidents when
Alexandersson blazed over from Chamberlain's deflection and Lowndes (are
you Maurice Johnston in disguise?) shot straight at Porky Pressman. The
second half was better, with more atmosphere being generated by the
Owls than in the first half. In a move that was identical to
Plymouth's goal a few days before, lazy (Owl fans' words, not mine) Di
Canio set Carbone away to cross deeply for the woefully marked
Alexandersson to easily nod in. The band struck up and the Owls were
singing loudly - a few around were puzzled why I wasn't. At the restart,
I saw Hyde wave frantically to the other boys to lift heads and get
stuck in. "He's never done that before. Why now?", I pondered. About
4.56978 seconds later, Kennedy hit a tracer bullet into the net and it
was 1-1. How I didn't shout, "F*ck you! F*ck you!" and then molest
Hels-Bells in the process was due to extreme willpower. After that there
was only one team in it (apart from a Mooney cock-up that allowed
Carbone to cross for Di Canio to volley onto Chamber's fingers), with
Lee, Gibbs and Johnson going close.
Considering the pitch, we played very well, using the width provided by
Lowndes and Kennedy and the superb marshalling of the midfield by
Johnson and the easy MotM Micah Hyde. The defence was very solid, but
the left back (God though he is) was exposed in his defensive duties.
Huge praise must go to Clint Easton and Nathan Lowndes who were
tremendous - and I mean tremendous. Lee? He needs a goal and quickly -
his work rate on Saturday was good and produced some neat lay-offs.
I hate the cliché that we "raised our game", but sorry, we have played
better than this this season (although not by much) and we exposed Sheff
Weds for what they were - highly paid individuals that were hustled out
of the game. There was grudging praise from the Sheff Weds fans, but
they now accept that they are through. Sorry, again; we are going to
push hard and I fully expect that we'll score a couple at Hillsborough.
Oh yeah. I took the train home and got back at 7:45 pm. Normally, when
driving, I'd get back to Guildford at 6:00 pm. I'm never taking the train
again (I don't know why you do it Ed!)- unless Hels-Bells is going as
Happy New Year!
* George Borg is manager of Aldershot Town FC - my local club
# Helen Chamberlain from Soccer AM