Are we top of the league?
Report by Ian Grant
Strange business, this top of the table lark. Despite being so far away
from Oldham in third place that they're unlikely to catch us up with the
aid of rocket-powered, erm, rockets, Watford fans appear to be on a mission
to find something to have a bloody good moan about.
What other reason could there be for the extremely lukewarm reception
given to the side as they came over to the fans after the final whistle? Or
for the continual griping about Micah Hyde and Jason Lee, both of whom
had more than adequate games? Hyde was particularly badly treated on this
occasion as Watford fans chose to dwell on his rare mistakes (the worst of
which was entirely down to a horrendous bounce from a divot) and ignore
his more frequent positive contributions.
The difference between this match and those at Northampton and Bournemouth
was minimal. Had we scored - and we came pretty damn close in the second
half - we'd all have gone home happy, discussing another positive performance
and looking forward to Plymouth. God, we're a fickle bunch, we really are...
Surely we're looking for problems here? I spent most of last season
tearing my hair out at our inability to score, yet I really can't see too
much cause for concern at present. The time to worry is when you're
not creating chances, when the supply dries up or your strikers lose the
knack of popping up in the right place at the right time. None of that
is happening. The potential to score goals is there.
I've seen toothless teams, I've seen Craig Ramage and Darren Caskey passing
the ball sideways for ninety minutes - this is far, far removed from all that.
Indeed, I'd argue that the last two performances (the memory of Torquay
is fading, thankfully, and looks increasingly like a one-off) have
demonstrated an increasing and encouraging consistency in our play. We are supplying the strikers
with more helpful service, we are getting the ball into better wide
positions, we are doing the things that we do best.
Apart from some defensive lapses, this wasn't crap. It wasn't brilliant
either - virtually every player had their moments, yet Nigel Gibbs
was the only one who played really well from start to finish - but that's
not what I'm trying to say. Those with longish memories might care to
compare Boxing Day's Watford display with the same fixture last season.
Lecture over. Sorry.
The game? Well, the only thing that stopped it from being a rather gripping
local derby was the lack of an atmosphere - everything else, from crunching
tackles to frayed tempers to goalmouth action at both ends, was present
and correct. But it took place in a largely silent ground and we all know
that football relies on context.
We helped the whole excitement rollercoaster on its merry up-and-down way with
some extremely horrendous defending, particularly in the first half. Within
the opening five minutes, Tommy Mooney had spread his arms wide to secure a
safe passage for the ball on its way through to Keith Scott in the area -
fortunately, Scott appeared every bit as surprised as Mooney (and the dopey
linesman) and allowed the chance to pass him by.
For a while, we made a bit of headway - enough at least to earn a chant of "We're gonna
score in a minute" (always the kiss of death, that). Most moves of promise
came down the right, with Nigel Gibbs and Gifton Noel-Williams combining extremely
well. That was the source of our best chance of the half - Gibbs won a tackle,
Noel-Williams crossed and Jason Lee headed just over the bar.
But we couldn't keep it going and the last half hour before the interval
was fairly shaky. Wycombe's Stallard contrived to miss his first sitter of
the afternoon, swinging wildly at a near post cross and completely missing
the ball. Scott, caught by surprise once more, managed to get his head to the
cross but could only manage a weak effort at Alec Chamberlain.
By half-time, Wycombe ought to have been ahead - it's obvious where their
problems lie. McGavin wasted another opening, firing wildly over when put through,
but also supplied a moment of real quality, finishing a run with a lovely
chip that missed by inches.
The team-talk at the break reversed the fortunes somewhat. While we did
allow Wycombe one more sight of goal, it was the away side that promised
most in the second half. And, unlike our opponents, we did force saves
from the goalkeeper.
That had much to do with the emergence of Peter Kennedy from his first half
anonymity. He spent far less time 'floating in the hole' (whatever that
means) and far more time augmenting our attacking forces in the penalty
area. Mind you, he wasn't always entirely worthy of praise once he'd
got there - a header over in the first few minutes of the half was fairly
wasteful. The move that led up to that chance, however, was a fine example
of the simplicity of our best forward play - Lee sliding a neat
pass into Gibbs who'd taken up (not for the first or last time) a fine crossing
That one Wycombe chance that I mentioned a moment ago proved to be the
most memorable incident of the match. The ball was volleyed across the face
of goal from a far post cross. Stallard, unmarked in the six yard box, had
enough time to pick his spot, rehearse his celebration and write his speech
for the post-match interview. The Wycombe fans were already punching the
air, the euphoric exclamations had already left their throats. Yet somehow
he managed to mis-kick so completely that the ball just trickled sheepishly into Chamberlain's
hands as the Watford keeper scrambled across his line. I think you owe
your teammates an apology, Mr Stallard.
Although that was the last meaningful action in the Watford penalty area,
there was still plenty more to get hot and bothered about at the other end.
Kennedy got a little closer as he was set up by Noel-Williams and saw his
goalbound shot deflected over. Then closer still as he thumped in a low
shot that brought a fine save from the Wycombe keeper, his defenders helping
out to clear the rebound. Then really close as his header from yet another Gibbs
cross was tipped over. Noel-Williams went closest of all, however, as he
got a touch to a shot from Paul Robinson and forced the keeper to push the ball
past the post at full stretch.
By the end, the final score had both an inevitability and a fairness about
it. Nigel Gibbs, who is defying all accepted wisdom by adding new tricks
to his repertoire at a stage in his career when he's supposed
to settle for being a 'reliable pro' and 'management material', came nearest to snatching a late
winner by smacking a vicious drive that only just failed to dip under the
Without wishing to repeat myself, the simple fact is that if you take away a few bits of uncharacteristically slack
defending, this was a Watford performance that was only marginally less
pleasing than the one at Bournemouth. Whether it deserved three points is
arguable - what is not up for debate is that it deserved a more generous
response from the (majority of) travelling fans.
If we go away from home and play like this, we will win more games than
we lose or draw and we will be promoted by May. I'll settle for that.
(The Editor would like to apologise for the lack of derogatory remarks
about Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins and the Kraven Kottage Krazy Komedy Karnival in
this report. Normal service will be resumed shortly.)
The right result
Report by Chris Lawton
For the first time in ages I had the opportunity to see the Horns twice
in a week. After Saturday's competent performance I was quietly
confident that we would gain another three points at Wycombe. Having
dined at the club beforehand it was somewhat strange to take my place in
the stand just as the players came onto the pitch. The biggest crowd of
the season at Wycombe was in relaxed if not particularly vocal mood. For
those of you who couldn't get a ticket, the police would not let Wycombe
fill the ground to capacity.
The game kicked off and as on Saturday Watford controlled the first ten or
so minutes with our best chance coming from a Millen header at a corner.
After that the first half ebbed and flowed with neither side being able
to put their foot on the ball in the middle of the park. A problem made
worse by Johnno's seeming absence and Hyde's inability to make two
successive good touches or passes.
Both sides came close in the the first with a Lee header going just over
and a mazy run by Hyde being the best chances although Johnno tried his
best to score from an impossible angle. Wycombe were equal to us and
surging runs from the middle exposed the defence on a number of
occasions. In fact the damge would have been greater were it not for
another outstanding performance by Robert Page. He read the game
superbly throughout and apart form one moment of stupidity in the second
half didn't put a foot wrong all afternoon. Quite clearly man of the
match (again). Wycombe had a purple patch of five minutes when they wasted
three good chances but somehow a combination of poor finishing and good
covering defence saw us hold off the attack.
At half time I was expecting a Bournemouth-like surge from the Horns.
That 20 minutes at the start of the half where we seem to create much and
start to show just why we are top of the table. Alas it was Wycombe who
came out fired up and again it looked like they would score. Keith Scott
missed from a yard when it seemed easier to score and another forward
missed the ball altogether from twelve yards out after Millen had slipped.
This all happened on the hour mark and it woke Watford up. As the pace
of the game took effect the superior fitness of Watford came to the fore.
Kennedy missed a succession of chances when again it seemed easier to
score and Lee's shots on the turn were just too central. With three
minutes to go Nigel Gibbs nearly stole it. From 30 yards out he hit a
measured dipping shot that was a few inches from going in. It would have
been harsh on Wycombe had we taken the points. They played well and many
of the Wycombe fans and officials I spoke with afterwards said it was the
best they had played in a long time. Some people will view this as a bad
performance and in some ways it was - because we didn't win. A year ago
we would have lost this match because we wouldn't have stuck it out and
battled hard in midfield. If nothing else we have become a more drilled
and organised team than last season.
After the game I spoke briefly with Gibbsy who was disappointed not to
have scored and thought it was a good effort. The whole team vanished
fairly quickly and so I was left to talk with Keith Scott. He was
disappointed not to have stayed with Watford. He really wanted to get
involved with the youngsters. He rated Gifton and reckons he could go a
long way. He could see improvements in Gifton compared to when he was at
the Vic but said he should focus on the game and not the physical side of
the match. He is a genuinely good and friendly bloke who I think would
have been a good addition to the squad. Still perhaps that's why GT is
the boss and not me.