Nationwide League Division 1, 22/8/98
Bradford City 2(1)
Scorers: McCall (9), Mills (62)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 2, Kennedy 3, Page 3, Palmer 3, Iroha 3, *Wright 4*, Hyde 3, Smart 2, Johnson 3, Daley 2
Subs: Gudmundsson (for Daley) 3, Hazan (for Hyde) 3, Robinson (for Iroha) 3
Report by Dave Perahia
Ah, the good old days. Travelling to far-flung, God-forsaken corners of the country on my own (not having at that time discovered the delights of the Watford Mailing List and started to travel to games with like-minded fanatics). Memories of watching Perryman/Lee/Roeder era Watford. And watching them play crap. In the cold. Yes, the trip to Bradford brought back all of those fond (?) memories. My first solitary journey to an away game for two years, aimless meandering through a cold and characterless Northern city centre before stumbling across the stadium and a thoroughly lamentable performance to boot.
And yet the portents were good. A superb performance at home to pacesetters Sunderland the previous week ought to have boosted morale within the Watford squad. By contrast, an excellent recent run by the Bantams had ground to a demoralising halt at St. Andrews six days previously with a last minute defeat. Our tails were up, theirs were down. Things looked promising. Not promising enough, however, to stifle my growing complaints at the lack of new blood in striking positions. It was hard to see where an attacking threat would come from in the absence of the injured Gifton Noel-Williams. Smart was back from suspension, but his recent form had been so poor that that was hardly reassuring. It's certainly telling that my heart sank when I discovered that a virtually untried reserve (Tommy Smith) had failed to even make the bench, such was my lack of faith in the alternatives at present.
And so to the game. I think it's fair to say that any hopes we had of picking up where we had left off against Sunderland disappeared soon after the kick-off. Bradford tore into us from the off, and after only sixty seconds, Blake turned Page inside out on our right hand side before sliding a pass to a teammate on the edge of our area who cannonned a fierce drive against the underside of our crossbar. The ball was scrambled clear, but alas reappeared in our box with alarming regularity, and after eight minutes completed its inevitable procession into the back of our net. From a scramble in our box, the ball broke clear to McCall who hit a powerful shot from outside the area through a crowd of players which fizzed along the ground at a rate of knots and gave Chamberlain no chance. And even after that there was no respite. Bradford continued to pour forward, McCall and his cronies holding the midfield in a vice-like grip and prompting wave upon wave of attacks. Our defenders were struggling to contain the awkward Mills and the mercurial Blake. Mills alone had two excellent chances to increase the lead, but was thwarted by wayward finishing or solid goalkeeping from Chamberlain. In contrast, Watford were just not able to make any significant impression against a solid Bradford backline. Smart ran and ran, but he was unable to hold the ball up and it was whisked away back downfield with depressing regularity. Daley was a shadow of his recent self, being hustled out of the game. Only Nicky Wright offered any hope of a breakthrough with his intelligent running and prompting. Half time arrived with many of us thanking our lucky stars that Bradford hadn't taken their chances to open up a lead of cricketing proportions.
Our misery continued during the halftime interval with the culmination of a campaign of harassment by certain Bradford stewards. Two well-known peaceful Watford fans were ejected from the ground for supposed misdemeanours perpetrated during the first half. With apologies to any well-adjusted ground stewards who might be reading this, I have nothing but contempt for the significant proportion of this group who seek to gain employment in such a capacity in order to bolster their self esteem and redress their feelings of inadequacy by victimising random people. Honestly, just because a sad individual doesn't have the gumption to stand up to his wife, children, employer or mother-in-law doesn't mean he should be allowed to take it out on us.
The second half arrived and battle recommenced. The pattern of play seemed much the same, Watford being bested by a more skillful, more committed side and looking to limit the damage more than anything else. Our passes were misplaced, almost every 50-50 ball was lost and Bradford harried and chased our strangely lethargic heroes into surprisingly ready submission. Bradford doubled their lead after 62 minutes, Mills capitalising on a yet another mistake to fire home. In the face of such a dire display, the Watford fans reacted admirably, and with the assistance of a lone drummer, kept the singing and chanting going for almost the whole second half. The fact that we were allowed to stand unchallenged for the whole 45 minutes will not, I'm sure, be of much consolation to the unfortunates asked to leave at half time as this appears to be the main reason they were ejected, but it at least enabled us to keep the volume levels up. After the game, three Bradford fans took the time to inform me that our support had been "Magnificent" (their words, not mine), so at least we played our part. For a short time, the team seemed to respond. Hyde hit a pretty good shot from outside the area which Walsh comfortably tipped over, and we had a fabulous chance to haul ourselves back into the game when a right wing cross was met superbly by Wright. His header was brilliantly tipped on to the post by Walsh in the Bradford goal but the ball bloke clear to Smart, unmarked in the box about three yards out. I think it's fair to say that our celebrations were already bursting from our lungs at that point, but Smart unfortunately elected to tap the ball back into the grateful hands of Walsh rather than thrash it into the net. We knew then that the game was lost. Some time before the end, a number of Hornet comedians were imploring the stewards to eject THEM from the ground in order to put an end to the torture, and one could only sympathise. Ben Iroha obviously felt the same way, missing out on a sending off by the merest whisker following a succession of fouls coupled with constant dissent before he was wisely substituted to limit the damage to a yellow card and a one match suspension. The final whistle was a welcome relief.
This was arguably the worst display I've seen from the team this season. I missed Huddersfield away (which some were comparing it with) but it certainly ranks next to, or even slightly below, Wolves at home and West Brom away. Alan Smart is well off-from and needs a spell out of the team, as does Darren Bazeley. Without Gifton (himself raw and somewhat inconsistent) we offer a negligible threat up front. There also seemed to be a disturbing lack of commitment on display. Make no mistake, we were comprehensively outplayed in every department by what is admittedly a very useful side. Never has the phrase "We were lucky to get nil" seemed more appropriate.
So, on to Huddersfield under floodlights and a superb opportunity to get back on track. Weave your magic, GT.
See also: City Gent, The Boy From Brazil