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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 8/9/98
Huddersfield Town 2(2)
Scorers: Stewart (21), Allison (41)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, Palmer 2, Millen 2, Yates 2, Smart 2, Hyde 3, Ngonge 2, Johnson 3, *Wright 3*
Subs: Page, Hazan (for Wright) 0, Noel-Williams
 
An omen fulfilled
Report by Fred Riley

What can you say about the McAlpine stadium? Nice-looking, good facilities, nice meat pies, but damn-all atmosphere. An intimidating arena it's not, and the curiously silent Huddersfield fans didn't help.

The teams came out on to the pitch to a deafening rendition of the theme tune from "The Omen" (I kid you not) which quite successfully drowned out any crowd noise there might have been. We started with what appeared to be a fairly balanced though defensive line-up, with Gibbs, Kennedy, Palmer, Millen, and Yates in defence, Smart, Micah, and Johnno in midfield, and Ngonge and Smart leading the forward line.

So, 5-3-2, or at least that's how it appeared to me, leaving us light in midfield against some pretty hard grafters in the Huddersfield side. Still, we started off fairly brightly and controlled the game for the first fifteen minutes or so without achieving any penetration. Huddersfield, though, had two good chances, both falling to the ex-Hornet Wayne Allison, a tall, chunky donkey of a centre-forward. In the first he got through one-on-one with Alec around the penalty spot, and only some tenacious (and very careful) tackling by one of our defenders (can't remember who) managed to clear the danger. For the second he completely outjumped the defence and had a clear header which looped over the bar but which really should have been on target. Alec also had to make a routine but smart save from a sharp shot from another of their forwards from his right.

The omens were not good - even though we'd had most of the play they'd had three chances, and every time they came forward they looked dangerous. The breakthrough came from a routine defensive situation on the right side of the penalty area, just outside the six-yard box. Their attacker was backing into Millen, but there appeared to be no danger when suddenly he managed to turn Millen, gain a half-yard of space, and plant a simple shot just inside the post. Millen clasped his head in his hands, and rightly so - he knew he'd f***ed up in a standard situation and effectively given a goal away.

It was all downhill from there. We had a brief flurry of activity as we sought to get back on terms, but Huddersfield asserted an iron grip on midfield allowing them to mount more attacks, usually down the wings. A number of times their wingers got to the byline, only to fluff the cross, much to our relief. For our part, we had little in the way of attacking ideas. The few corners we had went to the far post for Kennedy to head back into goal, and all failed miserably. Whenever we went forward, instead of piling down to the byline and putting in fast, hard crosses, our midfielders would get to the corner of the area and send in routine high balls which the chunky Huddersfield defenders routinely cleared.

After all the Huddersfield domination, the second goal had a sickening inevitability. They gained a free kick about ten yards outside the right corner of our area, floated it over to the left hand side, and there was Allison rising easily above our defence to plant a firm header in the net, with Alec having no chance. A simple, well-taken goal, but one which should never have happened as we had three defenders who were at least as tall as Allison, and it was nothing more than a standard free-kick routine. Bad defending, pure and simple. The Huddersfield fans finally found their voice, and their chants of "Easy! Easy!" were no more than a reflection of the horrible truth.

We did have one chance in the first half. I think it was Smart who ran down the right to the byline and put in a wicked low hard cross which Wright connected with and which was very well saved by their goalie. A few minutes later the half-time whistle went, much to my relief.

As for the second half, there's not much that can be said. We had a brief but fruitless flurry of activity in the first few minutes, then the game settled down into a 'holding pattern' for Huddersfield. They were happy to dominate the midfield and push up in defence and wait for any opportunity that might come their way. They took no risks, and frankly didn't need to, as our midfield and attack never threatened the defence's composure.

Of course, it was highly frustrating for the couple of hundred travelling 'Orns as our (naive?) attackers were continually being caught offside by a well-marshalled defence pushing up, and in the end we were reduced to ironically cheering every offside decision and bellowing "OFFSIDE!" every time the ball came forward. In truth, though, such an offside trap is asking to be beaten, particularly by pacy players like Ngonge, and the fact that we didn't spring it once is a sad testament to our lack of imagination.

We had one half-chance in the second half. The ball came into the area and found Micah in space on the left about fifteen yards out, but his shot was blocked by a crowd of defenders before it got to the line, and that was it. Huddersfield had a couple more chances, including one shot from the right which brought a terrific save from Alec, but in truth they were happy to play the game out, and in the end they were taking the piss by knocking it about in midfield leaving our lot chasing vainly after the ball.

I missed the last five minutes as I left early to avoid the rush, but also because I just couldn't take the pain any more. We'd been comprehensively outplayed in all areas of the field, and if not for the heroics of Alec would have (and should have, in truth) lost by four or five goals - he was the only player to come out of this performance with any credit.

This was a very worrying performance. Huddersfield are an efficient and competent side, but one destined for mid-table obscurity, and to be defeated by them so easily is a dark omen which Taylor had better take on board pretty damn quickly. The humiliation by Wolves has been written off by others as defeat by a promotion side (a view which I don't share), but to be wiped off the park by a workaday side like Huddersfield should ring very loud alarm bells in the Watford management. Sort it out, Taylor.

Questions
Report by Ian Lay

I have never been one to question Graham Taylor. I believe, have always believed in fact, that he knows what he is doing. Last night rather changed that view.

Why, when you are 2-0 down by half time, do you wait until the last minute of normal time to bring on a substitute and then one who has only scored one goal for Watford since he has been at the club?

I'm not criticising Alon Hazan. He came on when he was asked. But what I cannot fathom is that when we have looked so unimaginative for so long in a game, that when we have not had any players (apart from Wright) who was willing to take other players on, we donít bring on a player who can run at defenders and is capable of getting goals. Who am I talking about? Gifton Noel-Williams, of course.

Now I would be the first to admit that Gifton had flattered to deceive on many occasions. But it cannot be denied that he has come off the bench before and turned a game. One of the most memorable examples of this is when he scored against Chesterfield last year. So why isn't he getting a chance? I think he will very soon. And I probably understand why he hasn't already.

GT is trying to make a partnership of Smart and Ngonge. Any partnership doesn't come after a couple of games, it needs to grow over time. But I believe that GT has made an error in trying for this partnership in the first place. Gifton is talented young player. We should be giving him every opportunity we can. He should be playing up front with Ngonge and they should be forming a partnership.

I have seen nothing in Smart to make me feel he is any better than the strikers we had last year. In fact from what I have seen of Wright he looks a better player than Smart. So what's going on? Answer.... dunno. We have lost the last two games now because of poor defending. And it would be easy to blame the defence for everything. But that would be unfair. People have commented that we need better defenders. That might be true, but more importantly we need a side that is going to create chances, and not leave the defence under constant pressure.

At Bristol City we played against a pretty good strike force. But the defence by all accounts played well. Why? Because the rest of the team were doing their jobs. They were taking the pressure off them and creating chances and scoring goals. The best form of defence is attack. That was the way GT approached football the last time he was at Vicarage Road. That is the way we should be approaching it now.

As for the game itself.... well, I'll spare you the details as Fred Riley has already detailed the "highlights" from a Watford perspective in about two lines.

Huddersfield were simply much better than us. But they are not quite promotion material. They beat us 2-0, when they should have buried us beyond sight. If they had been playing a half decent team they would have struggled. But they have potential. They have a strike force that can trouble defences. And if they stay clear of injuries to key players then they might well sneak into the play-offs. They certainly have a better chance than us at the moment.

Hardly anyone came out of the game with any credit. Hyde and Johnson worked hard in the midfield but really had few options wide with Kennedy still looking shadow of the player from last season and Gibbs, though trying his best, is not a true wing-back - though he has showed on a number of occasions over the last twelve months that he can get effective crosses in. Nigel had a reasonable game, but is more suited to a right back spot in a 4-4-2 formation than a wing back in a 5-3-2 formation.

Chamberlain made a couple of very good saves but is still reluctant to come off his line sometimes to punch or catch the ball.

The one person who did catch my eye was Nick Wright. Maybe because it was his debut, but he did seem to have a spring in his boots that the others didn't. He made a couple of nice runs and was unlucky not to score but for a brilliant block by the Huddersfield keeper. Basically no-one really deserved the man of the match award, but I gave it to Wright because he did seem to stand out in a very poor performance.

So. Back to the drawing board I think, Mr. Taylor. If we donít get a good result against QPR then people are going to get restless.

One last thing....

Most of the time we moan at our wingers swinging in high balls into the area which the opposition keeper can get easily. Last night we had a keeper who is known to be dodgy in the air. But did we try and test him with some high balls? No. It wasnít until about ten minutes from the end that one cross went near the keeper and he punched pathetically. So bad that it nearly dropped for Hyde to have a shot.

If supporters know about a keeperís downfalls, then the manager of the team should definitely know. Why did we not put more pressure on the keeper? Why did we not test him more?

I havenít got answers to these questions. I wonder if anyone at the club has got them?

See also: Huddersfield Net