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Coca-Cola Cup 1st Round 1st Leg, 13/8/97
Swindon Town 0(0)
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Gibbs 4, Kennedy 4, Page 4, Millen 4, Mooney 4, Noel-Williams 5, Hyde 5, Lee 4, *Johnson 5*, Slater 4
Subs: Rosenthal (for Slater) 4, Day, Palmer
Scorers: Noel-Williams (12), Rosenthal (63)
An excellent performance
Report by Ian Lay

Put quite simply this has to be the best away performance in years. Not only did we beat Swindon, but we beat them easily and with only ten men for half the game. Though it's early days yet, the transformation of the side under Graham Taylor is quite extraordinary. We have players who seem to have time on the ball. Players that aren't just looking for an aimless thirty yard punt to try to set up an attack. And, most of all, we have players that can run with the ball (Hyde, Kennedy, Slater etc).

There is no doubt in my mind that we have a good squad of players now, and victories against sides like Swindon could become the norm again rather than the exception.

As for the game, there was quite a lot going on so forgive me if I miss anything!

This was a very lively match and the first good chance nearly fell to the Horns, Lee anticipating well to nearly cut out a back pass to the keeper. The first shot on goal came from Swindon, Wayne Allison playing a quick one-two and then sending a shot in which produced a good save from Chamberlain.

Robert Page had to be on his toes a few minutes later to make an interception in our penalty area and clear the ball for a corner. Chamberlain then pulled off two great saves. The first he palmed away after the corner had been hit long to the back of the box and the ball had been driven back in. The second he pushed clear to his left and Mooney cleared the lines.

After this bout of pressure I was expecting a tough night, but that all changed quite suddenly. A free quick was awarded about twenty-five or thirty yards out after Lee was pushed in the back. Kennedy stepped up to take it, and with Watford employing that good old GT routine of having your own wall in front of the ball, he hit the ball over the Swindon wall and over their keeper, but it hit the bar. Luckily Gifton was first to react as the ball came back out and he planted a powerful header into the net.

A great goal, and most importantly we have found someone who can take good free kicks.

We continued to pressure Swindon. Hyde and Kennedy combined well to force a corner. From Slater's resulting kick the ball was cleared to the edge of the box to Johnson, his shot, though, going over the bar. Johnno then had another shot just over after Slater and Lee linked up down the left flank.

Swindon then had a goal disallowed, which at the time looked like it was for off-side, but as it happens it turns out to have been for hand ball. Then followed a good period of Swindon pressure. Chamberlain had to be alert to pull of a couple of smart saves and looked like it was going to be backs to the wall for a while. But the one good thing I'm seeing about this Watford side is that when the pressure is on they can still break out of defence or midfield and create chances. This was demonstrated when Hyde made and excellent interception just inside our half and then threaded the ball through to Lee. Jason took the ball forward a few yards, holding off the approaching defenders, and sent a shot in from just outside the area which was tipped over the bar by the keeper.

And then, just as we were looking forward to half time with a 1-0 nil lead, Jason Lee was sent off. The referee had blown up for a foul committed by Lee and had awarded a free kick to Swindon. He was running back into our half of the field when the linesman called him over. After a brief chat he called Lee over and got his book out. Well, we all thought that he was going to get a yellow card, but we couldn't believe it when he was shown red. Supposedly he had used an elbow, but even if he had (which I didn't see) I very much doubt if it was intentional. The ref understandably got booed off, though to be fair it was the linesman's fault not the ref's.

The second half saw one change. Slater was replaced by Rosenthal.

As can be expected we were put under a lot of pressure in the second half. The first fifteen minutes was all one-way traffic. The defence and in particular Johnno did a brilliant job at keeping Swindon at bay. But during this period the whole team helped out, even Gifton and Rosenthal tracked back to do some covering, or put the odd tackle in.

Then, fairly much out of the blue, we got a second goal. Johnson, picking up the ball just inside out half, sent a brilliant pass through on the right for Gifton. He controlled it well, took the ball to the edge of the box but his shot was blocked by two defenders. The ball though ran loose and Rocket Ron seized on the chance to send a shot into the top right hand corner. It was a great strike and great reward for the amount of pressure we'd had to deal with.

The game opened up a bit more after that as Swindon had to throw caution to the wind somewhat and try a get a goal or two back. But they never really stretched us again apart from one shot which just went wide of the post. But, from the way Chamberlain left it, it couldn't have been as close as it looked.

We had a couple more half chances. Millen put a header over the bar from a corner and Kennedy sent a free kick just wide after Micah Hyde had been brought down after a good run from midfield.

All in all this was an excellent performance. Everyone had very good games, with a few being outstanding. Hyde looks like a great buy. He works hard, tackles pretty well and is not afraid to take the ball forward. Sometimes I wish though he'd be a little more greedy. Sometimes he passes to another player when he's in a better position to take the ball on himself.

Gifton was excellent. He scored one, helped create another and did not stop running all night. I was very tempted to give him the man of the match, but that accolade has to go to Richard Johnson. If it wasn't for him I don't think we would have survived the intense pressure that Swindon put us under. He made some very timely tackles and generally hassled the Swindon players so much that they couldn't settle into any kind of rhythm. His pass to Gifton to help set up the second goal was also a peach. When Johnno does this kind of thing, not many people notice. If Ramage had done it everyone would have been wetting themselves.

So, a great evening. I don't think Swindon can have any complaints. They were just outplayed. And outplayed by ten men for half the game. The tie is not won yet. We still have to do the business at the Vic. But I have confidence that we won't throw away a two goal advantage.

One last thing before I go...many thanks to Rupe who drove me down to the game. I had a great evening sitting with yourself, Pete Fincham et al. I don't think I've sung so much at a Watford game in years (And I do sing quite a bit usually).

The buzz is back. Let's hope it continues. If you're all going to Carlisle clap your hands...

A famous victory
Report by Dan Exeter

I'd give most of the players top marks for one, very simple reason: they were brilliant. This performance will go down in the annals of famous Watford victories, right up there will beating Leeds in the Coca-Cola five years ago. Although Swindon themselves are only a mediocre First Division side, they are nevertheless in a higher division than us and what's more had an excellent home record last season. More relevantly for this match, we always seem to lose at Swindon.

If you're looking for a blow-by-blow account of all the events that took place I'm afraid I'll have to refer you to either the Watford Observer report or to that Ian Lay, who very sensibly had brought a pen and notebook along (Only because he was doing some trainspotting on the way - Ed).

The starting line-up was the same as against Burnley on Saturday - however, new signing Ronny Rosenthal was on the bench, together with Chris Day and Steve Palmer. Like Saturday, the first ten minutes belonged to the opposition. Swindon certainly did look a side from a higher division - their passing and movement was of a different class, their number eight looked very dangerous (and uncannily like our own Richard Flash). We couldn't seem to settle and out on the right it looked as if Watford Reject Jason Drysdale would keep Stuart Slater in his pocket.

And then we won a free-kick.

On the edge of the box.

I haven't a clue why we won it - either Jason Lee or The Gift were fouled, I'm afraid the memory of that has been displaced by the events that followed. Normally, of course, a free-kick to Watford in the opponents' half means either an aimless ball floated safely into touch or an attempt at a long range piledriver that rebounds off an opposition player and twenty seconds later results in a chance for the opponents on the breakaway. This time, however, we actually had a routine. Our players formed a wall in front of the ball, thus covering the ball from the opposition wall and the goalie. Peter Kennedy, who has such a sweet left foot he reminds me of, well, Drysdale (You're fired - Ed), ran up and just as he came to the ball, our wall split and Kennedy hit the ball with a venom that I'm sure it hadn't felt before. Unfortunately for him the ball didn't burst the back of the net but came off the bar, with the keeper motionless. The bar was still reverberating when The Gift stooped to head the rebound into the goal from virtually the penalty spot (and not much higher, either).

The seven hundred or so Hornets (and one Forest fan, accompanying a certain Mr Fincham) exploded in delight - the six thousand Swindon fans became very silent.

I always worry when we go one up against a higher team - I'm always afraid that it'll wake them up and they'll start to really play and not stop until they've put about five past us. This is what seemed to happen - Swindon came at us with all guns blazing. Their number eight was causing Micah and Johnno all sorts of problems in midfield, while ex-Hornet Wayne Allison had the physical presence and skill to give Millen a hard time. Their number nine even had the ball in the back of the net - except it was not given, we thought for offside but according to Teletext due to a handball.

We did get forward occasionally, Jason Lee in particular very nearly chipped Digby from just inside the box, and we did have a couple of corners although their delivery was mostly awful. To pessimists like myself, a Swindon equaliser seemed more likely though...

...and even more so after the defining incident of the match. Right at the end of the half, when most of us were just praying to hold onto the lead, Jason Lee and (I think) Alan McDonald went up to challenge for a high ball. They missed, the play moved on and as they landed Lee quite clearly elbowed McDonald hard in the face. He would've got away with it too, as the ref had turned his back on the two protagonists, except the linesman noticed and flagged the ref. The ref had no choice but to send Lee off for an early bath.

I had seen the whole incident, so I wasn't surprised at the ref's decision. I was more disappointed with Jason Lee, getting himself a silly suspension for no worthwhile reason when the match was hard enough already. My only hope is that red cards, like yellow cards, only apply to the Coca-Cola, although I doubt it.

Most of the travelling Hornets who had been following the play could not understand what Lee had done, especially as McDonald knelt clutching his face before falling over. Some people said Lee had been pushed; some said he had been elbowed earlier. In all honesty, it didn't matter, as once the linesman saw it and told the ref, Lee was walking. Just for the record, I thought the ref was right.

I'm normally one of the first to slag off a ref when he's crap - like, for example, Paul Danson's display of breathtaking incompetence on Saturday. I'm not always so quick to praise a ref - and to be fair to this one, I thought he was actually very good (a fact which obviously did not stop me hurling abuse at him).

We made it to half-time without any more disasters befalling us, and the break was spent wondering what sort of options we had. The consensus was that Swindon would come at us like there was no tomorrow and would probably get through, so we had to hang on for as long as possible. The Gift was playing magnificently but nobody thought he could last another 45 minutes, not as the lone man up front. Perhaps Ronny Rosenthal on for The Gift later, and Palmer for Slater? When the second half started, we swapped Rosenthal for Slater and prepared for the Swindon onslaught.

The first few minutes were extremely nerve-wracking, and seemed to take forever. The team were playing very well, being strong in the tackle and wise in their positioning. Hyde, The Gift and Ronny did not give up the midfield fight, tracking back, continually running, trying to get into space on the rare occasions when we had the ball - mostly it was hoofed upfield, although once we began to settle we did start to play it more intelligently.

McMahon brought on Mark Walters, who spelt more trouble for us, yet the match took on a radically different tone when we did the unthinkable - we scored. The exact details of the build-up I'm afraid you'll have to find elsewhere - I remember it was very measured and composed, before Ronny hoofed the ball into the top right hand corner of the goal in front of the (very quiet) home support.

I had (Surprise! - Ed) promised to run round the pitch naked if Ronny scored - prudently, I remained clothed but there's no denying that Ronny's goal made him an instant hero to the Hornet faithful. The supporters deserve a lot of credit, getting right behind the team, cheering the players and management staff, and vigorously booing Drysdale (who deserves all he gets, frankly). For most of the second half we completely outsang the home support, some of whom began to leave a good ten minutes before the final whistle. In fact, the boys at the back managed to make me feel like it was a home game.

Amazingly, we held on. Walters looked fat, unfit and off the pace. Millen and Page coped magnificently with the threat of Allison and the number eight. Ronny used his experience and knowledge to provide options and, encouragingly, he kept on communicating with those around him even though he can't have met his team-mates more than 36 hours earlier. I think his experience and coaching was invaluable to the younger ones like The Gift and Micah. The Gift just kept running, kept moving, kept tackling.

We even kept on attacking and, as is often the way when ten men are determined to beat eleven, we looked like we had a man over. Peter Kennedy popped up on the left a few times, while both The Gift and Ronny had subsequent shots at goal.

Swindon became increasingly desperate and increasingly inept - a couple of times players fell over the ball, and one attempted clearance came off the backside of another Swindon defender. We, on the other hand, kept on fighting and battling, and just seemed to improve. At one point Tommy Mooney, who had done a sterling job on the left side of defence, calmly took the ball through two Swindon challenges and chipped it over another Swindon player to Kennedy.

After an annoyingly large amount of injury time, the ref blew the final whistle and at last we could relax. I could go on about what this win might mean for the rest of the season; the portents it holds for the future. I don't feel that would be appropriate, however - I'm just happy to enjoy one of our best performances in years.

A valiant effort
Report by Tim Lattimer

Having been an exile for nearly ten years, the prospect of only having to get on the train fifty minutes before kick-off had me in a state of breathless excitement all day. I thought I might try and get a lift anyway, so phoned a friend, but his car had broken down, and then I stayed longer on the phone than I should. In my rush to make it to the station, I made the fatal error of changing gear at a traffic light and the chain fell off my bike. It didn't seem a problem as I made it to the station five minutes before the train was due to leave, and with a fairly modest queue I thought I'd better try and get a ticket rather than risk a fine. Finally, two minutes before the train was due to leave, I made it to the front, and thought I'd made it, but then tragedy struck as the ticket printing thing went a bit funny, and the seller had to open it up and fish out the ticket. I still thought I'd made it, but as I raced to the platform I heard something that sounded suspiciously like a whistle. I got to the station, the train wasn't moving, but the doors were shut, and I pressed the buttons to no avail. The train pulled off (very slowly) leaving me a gibbering wreck on the platform.

The next train would have got me there half an hour late, so I gave up and played tennis instead. It was too nice an evening for sitting in a train, then going to a game, anyway, and I saved twenty quid. I then watched Match of the Day, and was very pleased to see Liverpool paying for getting rid of the best midfielder in the land.

All in all, a heroic comeback despite a string of poor refereeing decisions, and a terrible start. A lot of improvements needed though, I think, if I'm going to be supporter of the year.