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Nationwide League Division 1, 26/9/98
Watford 1(1)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Gibbs 5, Kennedy 3, *Yates 5*, Millen 4, Mooney 4, Smart 5, Hyde 2, Ngonge 2, Johnson 2, Wright 4
Subs: Page, Hazan, Noel-Williams (for Ngonge) 3
Scorers: Kennedy (4 pen)
Ipswich Town 0(0)
A game of many goals
Report by Ian Grant

It's Sunday evening, the end of a long week. I'm knackered. As the seemingly endless process of hunting for a flat takes its toll, life becomes cluttered and complicated. Work promises more hassles for tomorrow, the prospect of watching my software being demonstrated to assorted clients, council officials and members of the public hardly filling my heart with joy. The washing up needs doing and, since I live on my own, nobody else is going to do it for me (volunteers to the usual address).

But my football team seems intent on providing rays of light. Any Watford fans leaving Vicarage Road with frowns on their faces yesterday ought not to return, for I'd be quite content to watch our last three victories repeated over and over from here to eternity. Ambition and expectation can go to hell. I'm loving this.

On this occasion, facing arguably the most potent forward line in the division, we stared defeat full in the face. Then we kicked it right in the nuts. In other words, we absolutely refused to surrender the points, despite several spells when an Ipswich goal seemed completely inevitable. To quote a cliché, you make your own luck.

In retrospect, it was fantastic to watch. A game of many goals, only one of which actually went in (if you see what I mean). That we went through patches of being unable to do anything but cling on gamely like a novice rodeo rider is largely irrelevant. What really matters is not only that we stood up to some severe punishment, but that we roared back at Ipswich whenever the opportunity arose. Graham Taylor's built empires upon such foundations.

Like a game of hide and seek, Ipswich were kind enough to count to a hundred before they came looking for us. By the time the hunt began, we were already a goal to the good, courtesy of some tremendously clownish defending.

It should've been two. With only three minutes on the clock, a hopelessly mis-placed square pass from an Ipswich defender left Michel Ngonge in the clear. He accelerated away, only to make a terrible mess of the finish by side-footing the ball wide of the post.

The goal followed almost instantly and was equally shambolic. Richard Wright in the Ipswich goal was day-dreaming as a backpass arrived, allowing Nick Wright to nip in and steal the ball. He was tripped by the keeper as he attempted to extricate himself. From the spot, Peter Kennedy smacked his shot straight down the middle as Wright dived to the side.

Although the coherence of the attack was disrupted by the departure of Ngonge due to injury, the Hornets remained dominant in the initial exchanges. Nigel Gibbs was in particularly majestic form, winning crucial tackles in the penalty area, one of which required hair's breadth precision, as well as driving forward on the right wing. As has been the pattern of late, it was Gibbs' cross that created Watford's best chance - for Micah Hyde this time, who was rather wasteful in heading wide.

It couldn't last. It didn't last. By the end of the half, the period of yellow supremacy was a distant, nostalgic memory. The midfield of Micah Hyde and Richard Johnson fell away badly as Ipswich woke up, making it impossible to retain possession for long enough to steady the ship - although Allan Smart is a wondrous target man if you play the ball into his feet, we were unable to do anything but welly it over his head. For half an hour, we were reduced to the level of saboteurs, doing all we could to stop the away side from getting fully into its stride. We survived.

Just. There was only one occasion when Watford players didn't make the opposition work for their wages and it was nearly fatal, Nick Wright and Allan Smart contriving to lose possession on the edge of the box and Holland thumping a drive against Alec Chamberlain's right-hand post. Five minutes later, Taricco's cross skidded through the area, travelling rather closer to Ipswich strikers and the goal than the blasé attitude of the defenders indicated.

Looking back, we did well. Prior to the break, there was only one side likely to score... but they weren't all that likely to score. While we'd be well advised not to offer too much long-range shooting practice to our opponents this season, we didn't allow Ipswich to get behind us. Indeed, there were only two further noteworthy attempts in the first half - a rising drive from Petta that flew a foot wide of the post after half an hour and, a minute later, an optimistic shot from Scowcroft which was comfortably saved by Chamberlain. Bearing in mind that we were hardly in the game during this time, the lack of goalmouth action indicates that our sabotage attempts were pretty successful.

As it turned out, that was just the preamble. The second half, like the final rounds of a classic title fight, offered frantic, exhausting drama by the truckload. If this had been Hollywood, the skies would have been blackened with rainclouds and the action punctuated by symbolic thunder-crashes. Since it was only Vicarage Road, we had to make do with a bit of light drizzle and the occasional tannoy announcement. It was still mighty stuff.

For fifteen minutes, Ipswich had us on the ropes and dished out a real beating. Scowcroft's low shot from distance, easily gathered by Chamberlain at his right post, was only the beginning. The same player headed wide under challenge five minutes later, then the impressive Holland snatched a shot wide from the edge of the box.

The bombardment was incessant and it seemed almost impossible that an equaliser wouldn't come. Holland headed over from Scowcroft's knock back. Thetis diverted Taricco's cross goalwards and, as the Ipswich fans rose from their seats, Kennedy stuck out a foot on the goalline to block, the ball looping crazily over the bar. As that corner was half-cleared, Taricco sent in a blistering shot that Chamberlain parried low to his left and Holland blazed the rebound into the Rookery.

As I said, though, the beauty of this Watford performance was that we were prepared to emerge from our air-raid shelters whenever possible. So it was that, as Ipswich began to over-commit themselves in search of an equaliser, we once more discovered an attacking threat. With either side suddenly capable of scoring at any moment, the match became a scrambled, chaotic, end-to-end mess. It was truly thrilling.

Allan Smart, who'd run his proverbials off during an afternoon of selflessly chasing lost causes and is starting to look like a real find, had some support at last. Noel-Williams played him in after sixty minutes, with Richard Wright advancing decisively from his line to fling himself in the way of the shot. A minute later, Nick Wright scurried to the byline to send in a cross that found Nigel Gibbs breaking into the area to shoot over.

There was no time to pause for breath, let alone scribble notes. Too much happening, like everything depended on the result of this one match. Nick Wright scampered through the defence and was brought down as he rounded the last defender. With Ipswich colleagues charging back to cover, a red card would've been a little harsh - although anyone who saw me referee the mailing list match in the morning might argue that I wouldn't even have given a foul.... Peter Kennedy drove in the free kick, striking it rather too well so that it whistled through to the keeper.

The mayhem continued. The sooner they start to serve nerve-calming, medicinal whisky at football matches, the better. David Johnson broke through on the left, dribbling into the area and finding Chamberlain in top form to save. Smart turned provider to set up Noel-Williams for a winding run down the right wing, which ended with a disappointing, tired finish. Nick Wright laid the ball inside for Smart, who smacked in a fierce shot from a tight angle that brought the very best from the Ipswich keeper, diving high to his left to tip over.

Ten minutes left. Ten minutes to hang on. Ohhhh. Argggh. Mummy, make it stop. Dean Yates was Bruce Willis by this point, all shouty heroism to save the world against all odds. Scowcroft headed the hundredth far post cross at Chamberlain. At the other end, Kennedy whacked in a free kick from the right wing that was deflected over at the near post. With two minutes left, Scowcroft headed the hundred-and-first far post cross back for David Johnson to nod over from point blank range.

And then it ended. If this had been Hollywood, the rainclouds would've parted to allow the sun through, brothers-in-arms would've hugged tearfully and a joyous wedding would've been crow-barred in somehow. Since it was only Vicarage Road, we saluted the celebrating players for ages and ages, as if this had been a famous cup victory - which says much about our approach to the game.

If you're an Ipswich fan, you'll feel that your side should've won. If you're a Watford fan, you'll acknowledge that. Then you'll stop being so tediously fair-minded and rejoice in the fact that your side did absolutely everything to prevent the predictable and the inevitable from becoming reality. Whatever the result, even if Ipswich had managed to score, that means everything.

Report by Paul Goldsmith

Marcello Lippi, the manager of Italy's Juventus, commented earlier in the week after a scrappy 1-0 win against Cagliari that the "three points at this stage of the season, even if obtained with an average performance and only one goal scored, are going to make a difference at the end of the season".

Graham Taylor is not Marcello Lippi, Watford are not (yet) Juventus, but the fact is that three points in September are worth as much as three points in May. It may well be that these three points will be priceless come May. What was particularly important was how, not that, the points were obtained.

Having scored in the fourth minute, through a well struck Peter Kennedy penalty after Nicky Wright was brought down, the Hornets then produced a rearguard action so stubborn, so absolutely brimming with stoicism and determination, that the win was (rightly) celebrated like it was the end of the season.

Watford started with effervescence, running hard at the Ipswich defence, spreading the ball around, and chipping away at any opposition ball-carrier like hungry termites. After three minutes, Michel Ngonge's strength of both purpose and body put him away from the Ipswich defence. As Richard Wright came out to meet him, he left the left side of the goal gaping, while covering the right side. For some reason, the Zairian ignored this, and placed a tame shot quite bizarrely wide. This is not the first time Ngonge has been clean through this season. This is not the first time he has contrived to miss quite hopelessly. One day, he'll score when clean through. That'll give him confidence, which he needs. As it was, he had to hobble off after ten minutes, to be replaced by Gifton Noel-Williams.

The penalty was uncontested. Richard Wright, probably the country's top young keeper, brought down Nicky Wright as the Hornets forward rounded him. He wasn't sent off, but there could have been a case for it. Kennedy shot straight down the middle, hard.

Eventually, the young Ipswich side, full of some of the most exciting players in the country, began to assert superiority. They were all over Watford. Matt Holland struck a post with a particularly fierce strike. Mark Venus's low cross skimmed across the goal, and David Johnson and Bobby Petta caused the Vicarage Road end to have palpitations almost every time they had the ball.

Thankfully though, the Watford defence didn't panic. Nigel Gibbs gave a colossal performance. Dean Yates was, well, colossal. The former Derby player showed the calm authority that was so lacking in the Watford defence last season. Perhaps the most apposite compliment paid to Yates during the game was the growing tide of mutters containing the word "McClelland". Being compared to the best defender to play for the Hornets is no mean accomplishment after a few games. On yesterday's showing, he could be worth it.

Micah Hyde directed a close range header wide, but apart from that, chances were few and far between for Watford. Half time was greeted with relief from three sides of the ground.

Graham Taylor made two subtle tactical changes at half-time. Firstly, he detailed Richard Johnson to man-mark Kieron Dyer, which was important as Dyer had been the central channel of the Ipswich first-half attacks. Secondly, he pushed Noel-Williams and Wright out to the right and left wings respectively, to counter the considerable attacking threat of the Ipswich full-backs. This was clever as Ipswich now had far less to throw at Watford.

That said, the second half saw a resumption of the East-Anglian's bombardment of the Watford goal. James Scowcroft tried some long range shots, and had a header just miss the post in the 55th minute. In the 60th minute, a deflected shot from a corner beat Alec Chamberlain, and was heading in, but Peter Kennedy demonstrated perfectly the art of defending a corner by remaining on the post, from where he stuck out a foot to deflect the ball away.

Watford weren't without chances of their own, and at one point Nicky Wright was almost clean through, only to be brought down by Mark Venus. Although there would have been no-one but the goalkeeper between Wright and the goal, his path would have been blocked by some Ipswich defenders covering diagonally across, so not sending off the defender was probably the correct decision by the impressive Gurnam Singh, who allowed the game to flow sympathetically. On top of this, Allan Smart had two shots saved by Richard Wright, and Gifton Noel-Williams also shot wide when close. Noel-Williams was gradually causing more and more problems on the wing for Watford. But too often his final product wasn't good enough.

Alec Chamberlain caught everything thrown at him in the second half. Which was good because Town continued to hurl crosses over towards their strikers. Why Ipswich did this is hard to fathom. It shouldn't have been hard to work out that they had a huge speed advantage over the Watford defence, particularly with the speedy Johnson, so while they continued to give Millen and Yates easy meat to head away, Watford were safe.

And safe Watford were. At the end, Ipswich's attempts were in vain, and the final whistle was met with quite raucous acclaim by the home fans. The players celebrated with them. Nicky Wright led them, followed by the always enthusiastic Tommy Mooney. The Hornets fans sang back. They knew how important this victory was, and come May, it could be vital.

Report by Matt Bunner

Much as I dislike Man Utd and wished that somehow they would get another thrashing, their solid defending against waves of Liverpool pressure brought about their victory. They managed to nullify the majority of Liverpool attacks and then strike on the counter - the majority of the possession was with the scousers, but as we know, goals win games and the better chances were with Man Utd. In essence, they played a better team game than Liverpool and thus the three points were easily secured with minimal danger.

The similarity between Thursday's match and Saturday's was exceptionally striking: if you asked a neutral observer who had the majority of the game, then most would say Ipswich, but if you asked who had the better chances, then your answer would surely be Watford. Ipswich had plenty of possession, and by that I mean plenty, but some of their players were over-elaborating, always finding that extra, sometimes unnecessary pass, the extra step over, the additional 1-2, etc... bit like a Picasso painting really: full of vibrant colour and exciting composition, but ultimately unfulfilling.

I won't take anything away from Watford here. Just like Man Utd, their teamwork and covering was excellent all the way through the team: David Schwimmer up front biting the sartorial shoes off the showboating defenders; Nick Wright and M Taricco politely disagreeing on tightness of perm by seeing who could get away with the dirtiest foul; Yates appearing to look as interested as a studio audience at a Little and Large Show and yet managing to keep Johnson in his pocket and lastly, the superb all-round covering of Gibbsy. I can't remember when Watford covered and looked as solid as they did.

I pity anybody who took their seats too late because the game started at a frenetic pace. There were only three minutes on the clock when a beautiful through ball split the centreback pairing and left Ngonge to accelerate into a one-on-one with Wright, the Ipswich 'keeper. Now, I've gathered from various match reports on this site that Ngonge does tend to miss the odd easy chance, but surely not this one?! Moments later after a horrifically screwed shot bounced off the advertising hoardings I realised that it was true (Ngonge was later to go off with groin strain, but probably because he was too embarrassed to stay on!). Just when I thought we'd never get another chance, a dodgy pass-back put the 'keeper in trouble and his attempt to control the ball failed miserably by ricocheting off his knees. Nick Wright saw his chance and attempted to round the 'keeper but was caught by a slightly mis-timed challenge and the ref gave the obvious decision. Kennedy stepped up and smashed the penalty kick in the centre of the net.

Buoyed by the early goal, we attacked and moved with considerable energy, with notable contributions from Wright on the right (!) and Smart making himself the focal point of the attacks. From one of Wright's excellent crosses, (I think) Hyde had a glorious opportunity with a free header from the penalty spot but disappointingly put the header well wide. Meanwhile Ipswich were trying to settle down and weather the storm, but at this time their attacks were route one - meat and drink to Yates and Millen.

Then the face of the game changed. Ipswich then retained the ball for long periods forcing Watford to concentrate on defending, but as I said Ipswich were rarely dangerous. Two great covering tackles from Gibbsy thwarted a break from Ipswich when surely an earlier ball would have caused more damage, but with all defending there will be some hairy moments. In a ten minute spell Ipswich hit the post from a scorching drive from 25 yards that had Chamberlain rooted; a fast cross was a bootlace away from being tapped in by Johnson and Scowcroft; a lovely four man move resulted in Scowcroft curling the ball into Chamberlain's hands and perhaps the most comical moment so far when Millen left a decent cross to go out, except that Chamberlain was expecting Millen to clear it and was left scrambling only for the ball to just miss the far post! Call it fine judgement if you like, but that was too close to comfort.

The Ipswich front two must have been disappointed with the service from midfield, because Johnson is obviously quicker than either Yates or Millen, but I don't remember a through ball of any nature. They resorted to some long balls and that, frankly, was too easy for our boys. Surely Burley would have told his boys to be more direct in the second half, but on the basis of what I remember, the second was like the first.

Again Ipswich had plenty of possession but didn't look threatening. "We're gonna score in a minute", said the Ipswich support, but I never had the feeling they would (it's a long time since I've thought that about an away side at the Vic!). Their best two opportunities fell to Johnson and Scowcroft: Johnson skied over from three yards after a scramble and Scowcroft diverted a cross-shot only to find Kennedy at the foot of the post to hoof it over the bar and then stand their as if he'd just finished an 'Ain't Half Hot Mum' sketch!

Smart was showing some delightful skill during the course of the game. In Mark Hughes style he was holding the ball up beautifully, chasing and harassing (but got booked despite touching the ball), and showing great awareness in lay-offs. He is going to be a focal point this season. Wright was too busy getting involved with Taricco to show his real talent, but did show flashes. The same with Hyde - all the right intentions but rarely coming off (however, I did notice that he was defending and covering more that he used to). Johnson was in mop-up mode - never really required to harry, just to provide extra cover for the excellent defence.

Just like Thursday's Man Utd v Liverpool game, as time wore on, the spaces started to open. Watford had number of golden opportunities to bury Ipswich, but none were taken. GNW went on three mazy runs, the first ending with a unnecessarily hurried shot that the 'keeper didn't have to save, another saw the 'keeper easily save and the best saw a run past two defenders enabled him put in an unmarked Smart (offside, though) but put wide. Smart had two opportunities as well: the 'keeper saving both, one with his legs when he should have been given no chance and the other a brilliant save to tip around Smart's excellent left foot effort.

In this spell Ipswich should have been playing with ten men. Wright was clearly through on goal about thirty yards away skipping away from the defence. A late and tired tackle from the centre half should have resulted in red, but yellow was issued instead. Kennedy thumped the free-kick straight into the 'keeper's hands.

Normally, the last ten minutes of a Watford home game involves much nailing-biting and finger chewing, but today, for some reason, I felt at ease. The Watford cover and organisation was excellent and the Ipswich attacks were just too predictable. We held on for a comfortable win and it was noticeable that only two Ipswich players went over to their fans, whilst the Watford lads hugged and punched the air in delight. Ipswich will win a fair amount at home, but away, they'll struggle if they don't have a more direct approach.

I now assume that Taylor has found his starting line-up. They were tactically superb today and a great team performance was rewarded. Pick of the players were Smart, Gibbs, Mooney and Yates. I just wish we could take most of our chances...

Looking forward to Tuesday!

I can't leave this match report without commenting on Harry. He looks like Berty Bassett without his liquorice allsort hat! From having a huge black head, it's been reduced to size of a Belisha beacon! And as for Harriet's skirt....

See also: Those Were The Days