Tea with milk
Report by Ian Grant
There have been many changes at Watford over the last couple of months as the
Vicarage Road Revolution gathers momentum. But few of those changes can have
been as significant as this - tea with milk. Not tea with powdered
crap or, as I once had at Ipswich, tea with white bits floating around in it like
one of those snow scene shaky wotsits - tea with proper milk. Oh, happy day!
Suffice to say that, after that revelation, the result of the game held
little importance to me - my evening, perhaps my life, was complete. The
arrival of plain chocolate Hob-Nobs to Vicarage Road can surely only be
The football? Oh, that.
In many ways, this was a significant match. While Saturday gave us the chance
to show off our fancy passing, last night's game forced us to compete with a
side from a higher division in a very, very physical contest. And we matched
them. It wasn't at all pretty - not really an evening for your Slaters,
Kennedys, Hydes and Rosenthals - but we came through the stern test unscathed.
Make no mistake, this was a tie we could still have lost. At no point were
we able to assume victory and relax - even if Swindon didn't believe they
could win, their desire to avoid a post-match roasting from Steve McMahon to add to
the one they must've received at the interval kept them going at full throttle
until the final whistle. There will be a lot of Watford players with bruises
all over this morning.
In truth, the first half was largely abysmal - although, since we were starting
the game with a two goal lead, that suited us just fine. Whatever grand
intentions the visitors had of getting an early breakthrough soon petered out
as they found it impossible to pass the ball under constant pressure from the Watford
The consequent stalemate was only occasionally broken, most commonly by
minute flashes of Saturday's inspiration from the Watford wingers. One such
moment saw Ronny Rosenthal sent through and waste the opportunity by choosing
to square the ball when he should've gone for glory. For a former Premiership
striker, Rosenthal seems curiously unselfish - or perhaps he's just trying to
make friends with his new work colleagues.
A similar break, this time involving Stuart Slater, resulted in the first
goal. With the Swindon defence nowhere in sight, a combination of three
Watford managed to force the ball past the keeper, leaving Micah Hyde with the
simple task of shooting into an empty net.
A couple of almighty goalmouth scrambles, one of which resulted from a superb,
flicked effort by Gifton Noel-Williams that required an equally fine save, nearly
saw us put the tie way beyond Swindon's reach. It would've been well deserved too -
against a poor Swindon side, we were in command of the game.
Otherwise, there was little worth passing comment on. One Swindon player
managed to get his (cough) privates in the way of a typically fierce shot by
Richard Johnson - another shot in the second half hit Wayne Andrews in the face,
proving that Johnno's now able to inflict pain on other players without even touching them...
No doubt there were a few fruity words being used in the Swindon dressing room
at half-time, with the result that the away side emerged with new purpose. Even if
glimpses of football were rare, the second half was thrilling as a primitive,
It took barely a minute for the first serious scare to arrive - our defence
was left standing by a quick break and Johnson was forced to scythe down an
attacker as he went through on goal. Personally, I fail to see how that could
possibly not be a red card offence, especially since the tackle itself was
vicious enough to be worthy of a booking anywhere else on the field. But the referee,
who was rapidly losing any control over the game thanks to his fussy, inconsistent
manner, chose to show yellow. It's a thin line between being a hero and a villain -
Johnson went on to put in a performance that would win him the 'man of the match' award
yet again when he shouldn't really have been on the pitch. The resulting
free kick was curled just inches wide of Alec Chamberlain's right hand post.
The Swindon equaliser was always coming, despite our valiant attempts to deny
them any time and space in which to play. A defensive lapse left a striker alone
in the area as a cross came in and he calmly looped a header over Chamberlain.
At that stage, the game was becoming increasingly frantic and the signs looked
a little ominous. That we survived was largely due to the ridiculously committed
attitude of many of the Watford players - faced with a side that was dishing out a
right royal battering, we refused to back down and matched them in almost every
department (I say 'almost' because Lars Melvang was having a torrid time against
Walters). Having shown his more creative side on Saturday, it was Richard Johnson who
again stole the show, this time for his leadership and passion. One moment he'd
be covering for Peter Kennedy after the winger had gone on a run; the next, he'd
be putting his head in among the boots to clear from the edge of the area; the next,
he'd be driving in a shot; the next, hurling a long throw into the box. He looked
like he was enjoying himself. The others followed his example, so much so
that even the likes of Slater and Kennedy were putting in important tackles.
Up front, Gifton Noel-Williams played one of his best matches in a Watford shirt. When
all we could do was welly the ball clear, it was Gifton who was there, withstanding
a buffeting from his marker to hold the ball up and relieve some of the pressure. His
presence grows with every game and this, I suspect, was a very valuable addition to
his first team experience.
Such determination not to surrender saw us carve out a couple of chances -
an in-swinging corner nearly caught the keeper out at his near post and Micah
Hyde forced a good save with a shot from inside the area. At the other end,
Alec Chamberlain pulled off the save of the evening, clawing a shot away as it
headed for the bottom corner in the closing minutes.
A draw was the right result and, for us, it's a very good one. Swindon might be a pretty dismal outfit but they're a
pretty dismal outfit that can't be easy to play against. We didn't do enough to
win (in some ways, the end of the winning run and weight of expectation that goes with it is no bad thing, especially since it's
ended with a safe passage to the next round) but we did more than enough to avoid defeat.
Saturday, we proved that we can play brilliant football; last night, we proved
that we can also get stuck in when needs be. It's a rare and valuable combination.