Ideas, passion, aggression, more ideas...
Report by Ian Grant
So, what's changed? Nothing's changed.
No change of manager, obviously. No new signings suddenly turning things around - Guy Whittingham's
role has so far been incidental. No unknowns roaring onto the scene from the
reserve or youth teams. No major tactical re-thinks to flip the script - Graham Taylor's
pulled off some masterstrokes in the last three matches but he was chopping and changing
Nothing except confidence, which was the only thing wrong in the first place. We've
always been good enough, somewhere along the line we stopped believing we were
good enough. It's all of eight days since some people were talking about an inevitable struggle
against relegation back to Division Two next season.
Somewhere along the line - or, to be more precise, between 4:30 and 4:50 on Saturday 3rd April 1999 -
we stumbled upon that belief again. The result is there for all to see, as plain as the
ball in Bolton's net. Same manager, same squad, same tactics, and it seems like ten years
since we were forlornly fumbling around against Bury.
Everything's changed. If Birmingham was the consummate away win, this was the same at
home. From the moment when Allan Smart gatecrashed the Bolton kickoff to steal possession
within three seconds, the visitors were given no time to compose themselves. We absolutely steamed
into them, masters of our own destiny. Once more, vintage Graham Taylor.
And, thrillingly, there was real exuberance in so much of what we did. We're enjoying ourselves
again, back to the sense of adventure that energised our early season surge. Tommy Mooney's
back, his gritted teeth permanently on the verge of breaking out into an enormous grin; Nick
Wright's back, playing a scintillating part in what ought to have been a first half massacre; Allan Smart's
back, the best damn target man in the division (bar Quinn, if you want to be pedantic); Micah
Hyde's back, that flighty, delicate influence in our midfield that's so terribly undervalued. Nothing's
changed, everything's changed.
Back in GT's heyday, there was never any question of waiting to find out what the
opposition was going to do. No polite introductions. So it was here - while
Bolton were courteously allowing the game to settle into a pattern, we rudely elbowed them out
of the way and hurled ourselves lemming-like at their goal. Within a minute, Mooney sent Wright
sprinting through, only for Banks to charge from his line to clear - that was not to be the
last time that the Bolton keeper saved his team-mates.
He had to do it again just a minute later. Allan Smart completely out-witted Warhurst with a
snappy turn on the edge of the area, drawing a clattering foul and winning an indisputable
penalty for his side. (Emphasis: That's an unknown striker bought for peanuts from Carlisle bamboozling
a player with considerable Premiership experience and, in the past, an even more considerable price tag.) What a
start it would've been, except that Mooney's feeble kick allowed Banks to save to his left.
But - and this really does say it all about the first half performance - we didn't dwell
on the missed opportunity for more than a moment. The fans sang Tommy Mooney's name, just to
let him know that it'll take more than a crappy penalty (or ten) to end his cult hero status at Vicarage Road, while
the team got on with the job as if nothing had happened. We were not going to be denied.
Only Banks stood between Bolton and humiliation. He saved twice from Mooney headers in the eighth minute -
the first of these stops, scrambling down to his left to push out a close range effort from a superb Bazeley
cross, was quite brilliant. Shortly afterwards, he was in action again as Wright came hurtling
through the midfield and unleashed a low drive that needed a fingertip save down by the post. At the other
end, a fortunate rebound left Jensen all alone on the penalty spot but - and here's that confidence thing again - he delayed
hopelessly and allowed Robert Page to get back with a right bulldozer of a tackle.
We're just twelve brilliant minutes in, ladies 'n' gentlemen. That's entertainment. The goal
was a while longer in coming, but it was worth the wait. Micah "can't shoot, won't shoot" Hyde
picked up a loose ball twenty yards out, surrounded by opponents. And he didn't
hesitate, flicking a shot with almost casual grace that arrowed its way into the top
corner. Too many people dwell for too long on Micah Hyde's occasional howlers - for the sake
of fairness if nothing else, we ought to dwell on this gem of a goal for just as long. Absolute perfection.
After Jensen had again been foiled inside the area, this time by a combination of Hyde and
Page, the Hornets went back on the attack. Smart's speed of thought in taking a free kick on
the right sent Wright on another charge and his rising shot from the edge of the box was
tipped over by Banks. Five minutes later, it was Wright again and this time he should've scored,
meeting Bazeley's cross at the near post but flicking it wide.
Bolton gave us a couple of reminders prior to half-time, in case we were already thinking of
cancelling holidays in May. The obnoxious but impressive Taylor fired into the side netting, before
Alec Chamberlain got both hands to Gardner's awkward cross-shot. That typified the game - while
Watford carved holes in the Bolton defence, the threat of a reply from the
visitors was always in the background. Robert Page and Steve Palmer never quite managed to shut up shop, they were just bloody rude
to the customers.
The only cloud on the horizon during a particularly smiley interval was our failure to secure a bigger lead, an
indication that we haven't quite solved all our goalscoring problems just yet. The feeling
that Bolton would be on the end of a half-time rocket and were unlikely to stumble through the
entire ninety minutes without enjoying a period of domination nagged away unpleasantly. Much
work still to be done.
No problem. The Hornets emerged from the tunnel for the second half with GT's words ringing
in their ears, and promptly continued to boss the game for long enough to add that vital
second goal. With the thoroughly laughable Gardner unable to handle sizzling performances by Wright and Bazeley (Emphasis: So that's a
World Cup starlet made to look pants by a former youth teamer and another bargain from Carlisle), quality crosses
were raining in from the right wing. Smart flicked a Bazeley centre just wide, we were going to score.
Tommy Mooney. Tommy flippin' Mooney. Hands up who'd written him off? Even subconsciously, even
unwillingly? Yep, me too. And he's back, better than ever in the last two games, making up
for any deficiencies as a striker with sheer mental tuffness and will to win. Playing like this, he's a great big
wobbly mess of ideas, passion, aggression, more ideas, guts, more passion, everything to extremes...a genius cross-breeding of Rambo,
Tigger and an escapee from "Rhubarb and Custard" crammed into a yellow shirt. Fittingly, and with the
penalty miss long forgotten, he gave us a two goal lead, hanging behind Warhurst as the Bolton defender
missed Bazeley's cross and thumping a header past Banks. It was what we deserved.
We took it right on home from there. With Page and Palmer defiant, Johnson and Hyde full of
beans, Smart and Mooney ready to snap up anything that came their way, there was no real
likelihood of Bolton coming back into the match. Sure, a goal for the visitors would've
set the nerves on edge more than a little...but, for that to happen, they had not only to score but to stop us from adding more, neither
of which seemed very likely at the time.
In the end, there were no further goals. Not for the want of trying, though. Kennedy's right wing
free kick swung through the area and just past the far post. Chamberlain made an impressive stop
to deny Gudjohnson after Taylor had instigated a swift break, then palmed Taylor's shot over the
bar. Bolton were having their period of domination, but it was a pale imitation of our
first half hurricane. As the latest in a series of mis-hit passes span aimlessly out of play, a
chorus of "WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON? WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON?" drifted across the pitch
from the away fans in the Rookery. Proof, if you like, that spending money provides no insurance against
loss of confidence.
Indeed, it was Watford who ought to have scored the game's third goal. Wright took Gardner apart
for the umpteenth time to dump a cross into the box. It was over-hit this time and everyone
gave up except Mooney, chasing after it like it was his winning lottery ticket blowing away in the wind. He
got there - much to the surprise of Banks, who'd wandered from his goal as if to fetch the ball for a
goal kick - and somehow hooked it back. Smart, practically inside the goal with a
defender for company, made contact awkwardly and the ball looped against the underside
of the bar before being hoofed clear. So unlucky for Smart, who only needs to score to announce
his return to peak form.
For the final twenty minutes, Bolton were hapless as only a side chasing a miraculous but
unattainable comeback can be. Remember losing 3-0 at Molineux three seasons ago, when we tried
so, so hard to get back into the game in the second half, yet the harder we tried, the more we were infected
by an uncontrollable case of Tommy Cooper-itis? That was Bolton on Saturday. Gudjohnson fired across the face
of goal, but beyond Taylor's desperate, exasperated slide; Jensen tricked his way past fifty-seven challenges and
then carted the ball into the Rookery. Well beaten.
If you had any doubts about the commitment of this lot, the celebrations at the final
whistle would've crushed them. The three substituted players - Wright, Smart, Mooney -
were back on to join in, knackered but so happy. They stayed there for ages - Smart bowing in acknowledgement of the
supporters who were abusing him a few weeks ago, Page punching the air triumphantly - while we
applauded until our arms ached. This was a massive game for Watford Football Club, and
the players bore that weight with extraordinary composure - they let all the pressure release itself at the end.
Even Miles was smiling
Report by Nick Grundy
There are some days when you just know everything's going to turn out
wonderful. Not many, mind, but there are some. I woke up on Saturday with a
really vicious hangover - the sort which gives you a headpain rather than a
headache - and then had to sit on a noisy and inexcusably bumpy underground
train for an hour or so to get to Watford. This didn't improve my humour any.
Everything started to improve when I got to the ground, though. First of
all, the sun was out. It matters, and not just to Micah Hyde. Second, I
just knew we were going to win. Got in the ground, and it was just obvious
all of a sudden. Third, before the game, even Miles was smiling.
That's very unfair - I'm sure Miles smiles a lot anyway - but it did strike
me as unusual. Anyway, despite the absence of Tony Daley (hamstring,
apparently), the team looked good in the warm-up, and the Vic Road End was
full as full can be. Amazing what that does for your hangover. Amazing,
also, what difference it makes to both fans and evidently players when the
latter come over to the Vic Road End immediately before kick off to applaud
the fans and get them going; the first-half noise was more impressive than
any game since Sunderland.
We kicked off playing towards the Rookery, and - well - dumped on Bolton
from a great height. Wright got a shot in which the outstanding Steve Banks
in the Bolton goal beat away, and shortly thereafter some good work down
the left culminated in a delicate chip into the box from Mooney. Smart ran
on to it, touched it past the defender (Todd or Warhurst, depending on who
you listen to), and was poleaxed. Penalty.
Up stepped the Moonster, and blasted the ball a couple of yards to Banks'
left; the 'keeper blocked the shot and it rebounded clear. Somehow, from
where I was, it didn't feel like it mattered. And, sure enough, we
continued comfortably to outplay them. Wright had a couple of stinging
shots which Banks dealt with, while two emphatic Mooney headers looked to
be heading into the bottom corner of the Bolton goal until Banks intervened
with saves little short of the miraculous.
Up to this point, Bolton had looked confusingly bad. Defensively, without
South African Mark Fish, they'd been only slightly above awful, hurriedly
lumping the ball forward at every opportunity. In midfield, they were
simply harried off the ball; Johnno, Hyde and even Kennedy were forceful
and relentless. Up front, they had an anonymous Scandinavian and Bob
Taylor, who cheered me up enormously by first weaving his way past Page,
then inexplicably failing to shoot until Page could clear the ball by
chopping his legs away. Looked a clear penalty to me, anyway! Next, he
chased a long ball and then stood directly in front of Alec Chamberlain,
preventing him from clearing the ball. Gratifyingly, the ref told him to
piss off out of it, thereby making Bob look like a total tosser. Cheered me
Bolton were summed up for me by yellow-booted figure of Ricardo Gardner.
The Jamaican international was apparently deemed one of Bolton's better
players by their match reports, and frankly this could explain many of
their problems. He was straight out the "why take one touch when eight will
do" school, and so - like Taylor - made himself look like a bit of a
knobber on a number of occasions. One pass he received, in particular, was
directly to his feet, and could very easily have been controlled and laid
off. Instead, Gardner chose to move forward to it, and then flick it
through with the outside of his boot for the onrushing Taylor to carry on
and smash past Chamberlain. Or so he thought. Instead, the ball spun off
his foot and directly into touch.
Similarly, when a rather impressive Gardner backheel had played in
anonymous Scandinavian #8, he jinked his way past Palmer and bore down on
Chamberlain. Again, though, rather than shooting, he decided to allow Pagey
to slide the ball clear as he looked to walk it home.
A stark contrast to our play, which was uncluttered and incisive, with
Smart, Wright and Kennedy pulling Bolton's amusingly poor defence all over
the place with their constant movement and interchange of positions. The
result was loads of space for Bazeley, Wright et al to swing over accurate,
pacy crosses; the excellence required of Banks to prevent us going into the
break three or four up has already been mentioned. We still went in one up,
although I only saw the ball float over Banks despairing dive and into the
top right-hand corner of his goal. Even the brief bit of the shot I saw
looked outstanding, and Hyde's willingness to show for the ball and use it
creatively deserved the goal he got.
So, first half: Bolton look clever but inept, we look committed and - well
- just plain good, really. 'Course, we all know that we always fall apart
second half and play terribly.
Not saturday, we didn't. The second half, possibly because all the action
was closer, was a small distance off thrilling. I can't think off the top
of my head of a single worthwhile Bolton chance, whereas we had
half-a-dozen first-rate chances. A Kennedy free kick from near the left
touchline floated across and was hilariously left by the entire Bolton
defence; it drifted about a yard wide. Another Kennedy cross looked a bit
deep, but Mooney's dedication sent it back across the face of goal; Smart
got between two defenders at the near post and met it acrobatically, but
could only touch it onto the angle of post and bar; a Kennedy cross
(spotting a pattern here, anyone?) was flicked on by Smart near-post,
whereupon the whistle went, but a diving header from Mooney put the ball
away anyway. The grin he gave us as he got up was priceless.
Not, though, as priceless as the grin he didn't give us after he'd slammed
our second goal home with a precise header from Baze's cross. He stood
there, arms aloft, and didn't smile once. Like Bristol Rovers last season,
only this pose had something to it that reminded us that he'd missed a
penalty, and said that he really didn't care. Pure class.
What else. We did start defending a bit deep in the last fifteen minutes or
so, but the crowd noise coupled with the dangerous breaks we made saw us
through unscathed. It didn't matter anyway. We knew we'd won. Whittingham
came on for the - as usual - knackered Wright with about ten minutes to go,
and didn't do anything especially good or bad. It didn't matter. We knew
we'd won. Hazan and Ngonge came on in the last minute and did nothing good
or bad. We all knew we'd won.
Games like this are worth sitting through half-a-dozen Bury matches for. It
was just - inexorable. Somehow, I knew we were going to win, but even I
hadn't anticipated that we'd drub Bolton quite as comprehensively as we
did. In the worst case scenario which sees them win their game in hand
(unlikely on this showing), four points from the playoffs - Wolves are
three ahead, but have a much better goals scored than us.
Yeah, 'course we can.
The extra man
Report by Matt Bunner
I've made a thing about not buying a replica shirt because of the
excessive price charged for what really is a piece of coloured cloth and
the likelihood of it being out of date by the time it has had its first
wash, but something on Saturday sparked me into buying one. Even with
the £15 discount, I still wasn't exactly tempted, but when I
challenged the assistant to explain why the shirt was in a sale,
expecting the answer, "Oh, the kit's changing soon...", he gave the
answer that it was at Elton's request to bring the price down in-line
with his public 'show your colours' plea. So I bought one, even though I
wasn't convinced that a new shirt wasn't in the pipeline.
Reading local literature (i.e. the Watford Observer and the programme) a
great hullabaloo was made about the 'need for support' and that 'we act
as an extra team member'. Quite rightly Taylor made a thinly-veiled
assault on the negativity of some of the support in recent weeks by
referencing the support we gave to the team in the last ten minutes of
Tranmere and away games of Birmingham and Sheffield Utd. He knows we are
just as important as the players on the pitch and it's high time that
some 'supporters' take this on board.
The pre-match atmosphere was noticeably different to those of recent
times; whether the euphoria of two successive wins or the sun shining
across the perfect pitch were the causes, I can't speculate, but you
almost see the positive energy raining from the stands. When the teams
came out, the boys did their usual clappy-clappy in the centre circle
and preceded to gee-up the fans with clenched fists and war-cries. It
certainly seemed that the message was received by all and that we were
up for this vital six-pointer! Oh, and were we up for it......
We absolutely tore into Bolton. I can't remember a first half that had
so much action, so I will make an apology that I'm definitely going to
omit some features on the basis I can't think of them all (I'd imagine
IG will have run out of paper...). The first 30 mins were literally
played in the Bolton half, which for the us in the Vic end was a bit of
shame, seeing as Banks (the Bolton 'keeper) was suitably impressive in
his imitation of Inspector Gadget with the commanding saves he made. The
quality of the approach play was swift, subtle and incisive, with Smart,
Mooney and Wright all feeding off intelligent balls from the excellent
midfield duo of Hyde and Johnson; Kennedy and Robinson were hurtling
down the left wing, aided and abetted by Bazeley on the right. All of
our flicks-on seemed to fall in the right places; all passes were
finding men in space. You could call it luck if you wanted to, but I put
it down to sheer determination and will to win.
A pass to Smart in left edge of the area saw a clumsy tackle by Warhurst
(?) and the ref sensibly pointed to the spot. In a surprise move,
Kennedy relinquished the penalty-taking duties (presumably after his
poor, yet goal-providing effort v Tranmere) and handed the ball to
Tommy. Personally, I'd preferred PK to have blasted it, seeing as Mooney
had his weak spot-kick easily saved by Banks. A lesser man would have
hidden away, but somehow you knew Mooney wasn't finished for the
Wave upon wave of excellent Hornet attacks descended on the
ex-Premiership defence of Warhurst, Cox and Elliott, yet they had no
answer to our industry and craft. Make no mistake, this was Watford back
to early season form - Mooney's header was brilliantly turned around the
post by Banks (ironically, just like the Pele save his namesake made 19
years ago); Wright's energetic and skilful run was ended by Banks
tipping his low left foot drive around the post. Further headed efforts
from Wright, Mooney and Smart all made the 'keeper work for his corn.
Wright had another shot that curled just wide and Johnno had a free-kick
sizzler headed (probably quite painfully) away before the keeper could
save. Corner after corner resulted, but we still couldn't break through.
We waited for the Bolton backlash, but that never materialised apart
from smart save at the near-post by Chamberlain from the useless, but
beautifully attired, Gardner.
Just as it looked as if the reward we so thoroughly deserved was to
elude us, Micah Hyde produced a stunning volley from 25 yards that
simply flew into the net. Apart from the split second silence that
greeted the ball as it hit the net, the Vic stadium erupted in joyous
celebration, led by Sir Elton. Was the celebration for us taking 1-0
lead or for the surprise that Micah Hyde actually hit the ball on
target?! I'm not having a dig at Hyde, in fact I think he's done
extremely well for us, it's just that his shooting is not the strongest
aspect of his game!
It simply didn't die down after that as we kept on probing, kept on
creating and kept on harassing our supposedly superior opposition. Of
course Bolton played some neat and pretty football, but at the end of
the day it wasn't hurtful. Veteran Taylor and their solid number nine,
whose name escapes me, looked very useful but their service was abysmal
from the mainly Icelandic midfield (Per Fransten is supposedly looking
for a Premiership club, but someone had better remind him to start
playing for his current club). Robbie Elliott, he of Newcastle fame, was
having a nightmare being completely over-run by my man-of-the-match,
Nick Wright. One particular incident showed the extra desire we had,
when Nick ran a full seventy yards back to win the ball back off Elliott and
set up Micah Hyde - simply fantastic. He did this several times,
sparking off wild chants in the stadium - we were actually creating a
'virtuous circle' for ourselves: we were inspiring the players and they
were inspiring us.
The whistle came as a light relief to everyone concerned, giving us a
chance to reflect on a hectic 45 and essentially to get our breath back!
We were worthy of a three goal lead, but we'd had to settle for 1-0.
I fully expected Bolton come out and attack us from the start,
considering the words Colin Todd must have had at the break. We were
solid for a time and held Bolton back a little but they were beginning
to threaten. Several chances fell their way but a combination of wayward
finishing and excellent goalkeeping kept them out. We could have sat
back and soaked up the pressure, but such is the determination of
Watford nowadays and more importantly, the self belief, there wasn't a
chance that we'd do that. We attacked and attacked again - I think
Bolton were simply shocked at our effort and skill.
Johnno won another tackle in the midfield and sent a composed ball to
Bazeley, inviting him to run down the right flank. With a quick glance
of the head, he sent a raking cross to the back post where Mooney jumped
effortlessly and planted a sumptuous header past Banks. A simple goal,
beautifully executed, but I bet Colin Todd was livid seeing as Mooney
was outnumbered by three to one.
Visibly Bolton were down and out. They were beaten from that point
onwards. I'd noticed Banks shaking his head in disgust as yet another
Bolton pass went astray. Sure enough, they had several other chances to
score, but you felt that if they had they would have only invited
several more to go in at their end, so inside of inviting a Hornet
onslaught, they decided to wave the white flag and miss all their
Watford kept going, despite looking tired - we wanted more nails in the
coffin. A deep cross was miraculously hooked back by Mooney and Smart
just failed to toe-poke the ball over the line; it hit the bar instead.
Corner after corner ensued ( the corner count must have been near twenty!),
and yet we couldn't get the third that we deserved. Smart had a decent
left foot effort parried by Banks when well placed inside the left side
of the area and Hyde had another volley deflected away when it looked as
if the keeper was to be tested again.
Smart, Mooney and Wright, all heroes on the day, were replaced by Hazan,
Ngonge and Whittingham. At the final whistle, some of the players
collapsed with exhaustion and I'd imagine some of the supporters as
well! They had earned their ovation by simply blasting Bolton of the
pitch. One win in ten for them and as some of the Bolton fans chanted
near the end, "What the f*ck is going on?", seemed a fair thought
considering they are in grave danger of missing the play-offs when only
a few months ago, they were favourites to accompany Sunderland to the
Enough of Bolton. It was our day because we simply had more desire, both
on and off the pitch. Effort can win matches and so can skill, so when
you combine the two, the sight is somewhat spectacular. That is what I
saw today, and I'll being praying that we continue that to the end of
the season. We did our part as supporters and lets hope we continue to
do so, seeing as it looked as if we were playing with that 'extra man'.
See also: Bolton unofficial