Now we know what it feels like
Report by Ian Grant
Well, I don't suppose we can really complain. For Watford fans to start whining on about the unfairness
of it all would be rather like Ronnie and Reggie delivering a lecture on the immorality
of minor parking offences - Walsall came, got murdered and went home with three points, just
like we did at Grimsby and Brentford. Now we know what it feels like.
It's not even as if we weren't warned. In last week's grand, Churchillian announcement following
the York shambles, Graham Taylor explicitly said that we'd be risking losing games in
order to win them. Since then, we've seen a marginal increase in the points-per-game return, a
noticeable improvement in the quality of our football and a staggering return to all-action
entertainment. Once again, we looked like promotion material last night - promotion
material that gave away two dumb goals, perhaps, but promotion material nonetheless.
The minute's silence for Roy Clare was impeccably observed, Vicarage Road so
quiet that the only sound was the eery clanking of the turnstiles letting in late arrivals. Particular
credit goes to the handful of travelling Walsall fans for their respectful participation.
The game itself began badly and quickly deteriorated. For whatever reason, we were
very slow out of the blocks - Walsall, with two new signings on parade, weren't hanging
around to wait for us. Even before they took the lead, Tholot had had a driven free kick pushed
over the bar by Alec Chamberlain.
That said, the goal was pitifully poor from our point of view. A long ball over the
top, of the kind that you get numerous times in any football match, confused Chamberlain,
leaving him caught between staying on his line and coming out to claim - in fact, with
Robert Page getting back to cover, the former would've probably been the correct option. With
the Watford keeper hopelessly out of position, Tholot's first-time half volley took full
advantage - Chamberlain got a hand to it but couldn't pull off a save to redeem himself.
It's not as if Alec Chamberlain owes us anything. It was certainly disappointing - but,
wracking my brains for the last time Chamberlain gifted the opposition a goal, he
really hasn't made too many costly mistakes this season. Certainly, the wonder saves
far, far outweigh the howlers.
Giving the visiting side a goal start is never the best way to go about winning a game,
especially not if you're the league leaders and that visiting side is likely to be
content to retreat into defence. Walsall barely had another attack during the whole
of the first half.
And, for fifteen minutes after the goal, we looked rather lost. Only Clint Easton,
bursting through on the left flank on a couple of occasions, looked likely to produce
the moment of unexpected class to unlock the Walsall defence. We didn't even come close
to scoring, though - the side we had out simply wasn't the right one for the job.
So in many ways the early substitutions, Stuart Slater replacing the unfortunate Easton and
Dominic Foley making way for Darren Bazeley after just twenty-five minutes, weren't brave
at all, just sensible. What's the point of waiting when it's obvious that there's nothing
to be gained by doing so?
It was the right decision. Walsall, who'd comfortably got the hang of dealing with our
forward line up until that point, were suddenly exposed. It took just a few minutes for
the Watford players to find a tactic that'd work - Darren Bazeley hanging out wide on
the right wing, Steve Palmer or Richard Johnson playing passes between the Walsall defenders for
Bazeley to run onto - and, since Walsall didn't seem to mind, we used it continuously.
Or nearly continuously, at least - the best chance of the half actually came from a
left wing cross as Stuart Slater combined with Tommy Mooney to supply Gifton Noel-Williams
with the first really dangerous cross of the evening. Sadly, Gifton's header didn't finish
the job and the ball looped kindly into the keeper's hands.
For a while, it seemed as if the good folk of Watford were going to play along. In all respects
apart from the final pass, we were slaughtering Walsall. Ronny Rosenthal shot over (after an absolute
peach of a foul by Johnson that the referee saw fit to ignore), Steve Palmer volleyed wide. Time and again, we gave the
ball to Bazeley and he led the charge - it's been an eternity since I've seen Darren Bazeley
so prepared to run at defenders, to think on his feet rather than going for the safe option. Initially,
the fans seemed appreciative - after all, the manager had identified our problems, made
significant changes to rectify those problems and we appeared to be back on the right
It didn't last, though. For crying out loud, is the lack of a final ball sufficient reason
to jeer the team off the pitch at half time? Or are we so dumb that any performance that
has resulted in us losing must be a bad enough performance for shouts of "This is sh!t, Taylor!" and
general discontent? Apparently, 'yes' to both of those.
It seemed obvious that if we kept playing as we had in that fifteen minute spell,
we'd score. We came out after half-time and proved the point. Noel-Williams hit the
top of the bar with a header from a right wing cross early on before a really well-worked
Bazeley - yep, him again - was instrumental in the whole thing, from initially making an inspired run
into the box which was temporarily denied to supplying the final cross. In between, Rosenthal and
Slater combined to set up the space for Bazeley to measure his centre - Noel-Williams
crept a yard away from his marker at the near post and flicked his header across
goal and into the corner to give the keeper no chance. Above all else, a textbook example
of what you can do with a decent cross from a decent crossing position.
At that stage, it seemed unthinkable that we'd lose. Some of our approach play was
simply sumptuous, Slater became increasingly involved on the left as the Walsall defence
finally started to close down Bazeley. We were utterly, utterly dominant. Walsall still posed
a threat, sure - our commitment to attack frequently left either Page or Millen alone at the back
to deal with the pacy Saddlers forward line. That didn't seem to be too much of a problem, however,
with Page in particular making some outstanding tackles.
As the minutes ticked by, Watford fans were looking at the clock to see how long we had
to score the winner. It seemed inevitable. Rosenthal had a shot pushed round the post,
Noel-Williams headed wide when well-placed. No matter how stout the Walsall defence,
it was surely impossible that a gap wouldn't appear sooner or later.
And then, disaster. It would've been forgivable if we'd been caught on the break - that was
a possibility that we'd lived with throughout as we threw men forward while Walsall defended
in depth. On many occasions, we were living dangerously at the back in order to be more
dangerous at the front. But the goal didn't come from one of those situations, it came
from a position in which we had all our defenders back, with support from the midfield. And it was
a shambles. A long throw was cleared then the ball was played back into the box and flicked on to
allow a clear shot at goal. Chamberlain advanced and was clattered, the ball rebounded off
the Walsall striker and trickled towards the line. Millen got back but was unable to clear
convincingly and, after considerably mayhem, the ball was forced in.
I've got no problem with most of our defending at the moment. If we're going to push the likes
of Mooney forward to make a contribution to our attacking efforts, we are inevitably going to
look a little threadbare at the back sometimes. It not only makes for excellent entertainment, it
has brought us far closer to a winning formula than we have been for at least a couple of months. What
is slightly worrying, however, is that we seem to have developed a habit of conceding goals after
half clearances from our penalty area. Against Luton, against Bristol Rovers and again
last night, we didn't clear decisively from corners or long throws, we conceded possession around the edge of the penalty
area and we gave away silly goals. That's something that we need to work on.
From then on, Walsall were in the driving seat. Time was running out and the more stylish
approach of earlier in the game gave way to desperation. It was entirely understandable but
it didn't do us any favours. Dai Thomas came on for Gifton Noel-Williams but made little
impact as our approach play became more primitive. Again, we missed Jason Lee.
Corners were won and cleared; Palmer had a venomous shot charged down; Page had a late effort
deflected wide. Throughout, Walsall threatened a third as we became more exposed at the back - Blake
wasted a particularly glorious opportunity by finishing with a wildly inappropriate right foot shot when
his left would've surely been the better option. Tholot also tried to score from the halfway line, which
seemed remarkably stupid bearing in mind that his side were trying to run the clock
Wobbly defending aside, the manner of this defeat should immediately deflect any serious
criticism. At times, Watford were sublime, a throw-back to a previous era when the Vicarage Road
turf would regularly play host to two wingers hurtling at opposition defenders. Some will rightly argue that the final ball
was missing...yet we were so, so close on occasions that even that seems harsh. Fine passing and
excellent movement led to Bazeley and Noel-Williams being flagged offside by a matter
of inches as they sped towards goal.
The truth is that we gave away two ridiculous goals and paid the price. Any visiting side
that takes an early lead is going to sit back and defend, making themselves difficult
to break down. You do have to give considerable credit to the Walsall defence - despite
being run ragged for several spells, they never threw in the towel. Having recovered the situation once, to allow the opposition to get in front again
was suicidal. That's the only really valid criticism.
The rest, particularly Darren Bazeley's contribution, was fine, sometimes damn fine. If the result had
been different, we'd have been absolutely buzzing this morning...
Report by Matt Bunner
In the damp and musty conditions, it's difficult to know whether you
should go fast and risk a slight degree of uncontrollability or stick
steadfastly to the inside lane and plod along at a constant 60. On the
A3, I played it safe and stuck to the inside lane, but when I reached
the M25 I thought I would pick up the pace. However, I couldn't because
I was stuck in the inside lane by huge articulated lorries. I was like a
trapped tiger with and itchy foot, but despite my efforts I couldn't get
out. We had to trundle along for 20 mins watching the world go by
thinking we could move a lot quicker if we could get out. Then, at last
an opportunity arose. I nipped out and freedom - I felt like Nelson
Mandela. Suddenly I was over and undertaking, weaving in and out (poetic
license here!) and loving every minute of it until we hit noticed the
overhead speed limiters - 40 mph, it was saying. That only means one
thing and that is slow moving traffic all the way to Watford, but at
least we had left in plenty of time so we weren't too concerned (even
though I was flipping tired!). We would get there in the end.
You might be wondering was the hell I'm blabbering on about: the above
has nothing to do with the football match. Well, unfortunately, it was
exactly how it was. For the first 25 minutes we were conservative,
plodding along, expecting things to happen instead of forcing the issue.
Then Taylor did the inevitable and brought Bazeley and Slates on, in
place of the probably-never-him-again-Foley and the unfortunate Easton.
This was the moment that we "broke free from the inside lane". Suddenly,
we were weaving in and out of the Walsall defence, creating
opportunities left right and centre, but the final ball was proving to
be crucial. Then we scored and we hit the 'speed limiters' - maybe we
took the attitude that we were going to get there in the end?
Walsall's goal didn't really come against the run of play as, let's face
it, there wasn't much of it in the first nine minutes: we managed to
cross into the opposition's half once in that duration and Walsall had a
decent freekick comfortably saved by Chamberlain. A long ball was played
up the new boy Tholot (sounds like Brian Blessed character) about 30
yards from goal in a surprising amount of space. Chamberlain for some
reason came off his line, so Tholot did the necessary and volleyed first
time over Chamberlain, despite the 'keeper getting a hand to it. Even
when the ball was in and the 10 Walsall fans celebrated, the Watford
fans just assumed that was Walsall's consolation goal had been scored
after 9 minutes and that we were about to steamroller them. Sorry, but
for the next 20 minutes we were tedious - I think that is the best way
to describe it - lacking in creativity and dare I say desire? It was not
a surprise therefore to find that a double substitution of Bazeley and
Slater was made. It was now all set up for a Watford party because we
had Bazeley, Slater, Rosenthal and GNW on the field of play.
Walsall were utterly confused at our change of formation and were pulled
apart for the rest of the half. Bazeley on the right was left in acres
of room several times but unfortunately the quality of the final ball
was lacking. The first decent Watford chance came from good work between
Slater and Mooney and the cross met GNW in the centre of the goal but
his header was tame by any standards and the 'keeper yawned as it looped
into his hands. Ronnie had a curling shot just wide of the angle created
by a blatant foul by Johnson just behind the ref's back. Despite forcing
about 8 corners in the first half we couldn't muster a header or shot on
goal - I don't think that would have happened if Lee was playing. Sadly,
we couldn't penetrate but it wasn't for the lack of trying. I can only
assume that the boos at half-time were born out of frustration rather
than our play. More on that later.
The second half we hit Walsall with preverbal sledgehammer as we forced
corner after corner and shot after shot. GNW glanced the bar with a
looping header soon after the interval. From one of the many desperate
clearances, Rosenthal and Bazeley cleverly combined to give Bazeley the
opportunity to deliver and inch perfect cross for the Gift to glance
into the net across the 'keeper. Now surely all we had to do was
keeping playing the way we had and 3 points would ensue. For the next
ten minutes we were Juventus at their prime; Brazil in 1970; Leeds in
1972; Real Madrid in the early 60's - we were fantastic. Rosenthal had a
goal bound shot deflected, the same man had a shot tipped around the
post and GNW headed lamely wide when ideally placed. GNW and Bazeley
were flagged offside when the goal beckoned. Slater was in his element
on the left as Walsall tried to close down Bazeley. He had one run from
the half-line going past two, but unfortunately he doesn't have the pace
of Michael Owen with the ball, and lost the ball on the edge of the
Unfortunately the goal didn't materialise and the frustration from the
terraces reached the pitch. We became increasingly desperate and Walsall
could sense this. They started to counter-attack well but apart from a
token shot from the half-way line, they managed nothing. Except on 79
minutes. Walsall had about two players in the box with at least 4
Watford players. From a throw on the right, the ball somehow bounced
unguarded into the path of Walsall player who probably was as surprised
as Chamberlain when he made the point blank save. Panic over? No. In the
ensuing scrambled that last as long as a Costner film, somebody
somewhere poked the ball in. Disaster and that is when the moaning
started, "That's how to play attacking football Taylor" was one of many
I heard. More later.
Anyway, we battered the goal again but the desperation was all too
clear. Apart from a Slater shot charged down (it was goal bound as I was
directly behind it!) and Page effort deflected wide, the night ended on
We murdered Walsall, but as we know from our visits to Grimsby and
Brentford, that ain't enough. It's goals that count. We've played a lot
worse that this and won. Tonight it didn't happen. That's football, but
it doesn't excuse the moaning and whinging I heard. There's usually a
bit from the Upper Rous where I usually sit, but tonight I was in the Vic
end and the stuff raining down from the minority of the fans was
inexcusable and made me extremely angry. Are they real supporters or are
they just 'fair-weather' supporters prepared to take the glory and say
nothing when we do well, but SO quick to criticise. Imagine if we were
bottom of the league - what the hell would they be saying?
Unfortunately, success breeds contempt and that is the society of today.
I'm always of the opinion that if you have nothing useful to say, then
say nothing at all. Comments I heard were, "Go on Walsall, get another",
"We're going straight down next year" and incredibly "We'll be lucky to
make the play-offs at this rate...". These people are detrimental to a
club, which is still top of the league and ahead of third place by 15
points with only 11 games to go!!!!! I suppose looking at it from their
point of view, at least we've enough points not to get relegated!
Right, that's that off my chest. One thing I learnt today is that
football can be like a motorway: slow, fast and a scattering of