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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 3/11/98
Watford 1(1)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 3, Page 3, Palmer 3, Robinson 4, Hazan 2, Hyde 3, Noel-Williams 4, *Johnson 4*, Wright 3
Subs: Gudmundsson (for Hazan) 3, Easton, Mooney (for Wright) 3
Scorers: Jackson (8 og)
Norwich City 1(1)
Scorers: Eadie (34)
 
Sleep is good
Report by Ian Grant

Mmmust hhhave sllleeeeep. Mmusssst haavvve sleeeeepppp. Sllleeeepppp. Sssllleeeppp.

Mmmmmmmmmm.

Uh?? What?? Uh?? Eh?? Oh. Erm, ahem, and then Bazeley was undone as Eadie swept past him on the way to goal.... No? Oh.

Sorry, all confused. Didn't ask to have a family of germs living in my head. Certainly didn't say that all their friends could move in as well. Have contacted Sudafed, sending "the boys" round to serve eviction notice.

Oh, don't recall leaving note for next door neighbours, saying "Please make sure you return late from the pub and play Underworld or something equally grim to keep me awake into the early hours when my whole body is screaming for rest". But must've done. Try to remember to send month old sheep carcass round as token of affection.

Today, feel too much like an Alan Bennett character for comfort.

Erm, did you want something?

Last night's football match, you say. Was it good, then? Did we win?

What, I was there? I'm supposed to be writing a match report? Blimey. Thanks for letting me know, like. Okay, well, you put the kettle on, I'll make some things up - deal?

Ahem.

Those who berate Elton John for visiting Vicarage Road less frequently than most Luton fans might like to ponder the 'celebrity fan' issue for a little longer. After all, Norwich are cursed by Delia Smith, who is to the Canaries what Nigel Kennedy was to Villa a few years back - a celeb whose support is probably genuine enough but comes at the price of everlasting embarrassment for everyone else. Still, Delia does a better omelette than Robert Chase, whose recipe involved selling all the ingredients to the highest bidder then spending the proceeds on chips 'n' mushy peas.

Is this going anywhere? Nope, don't think so. How's that cup of tea coming along?

With Watford facing an ever-increasing queue for the treatment room, it's encouraging that we can still put out a side that looks capable of beating the likes of Norwich. Last night's line-up was far from perfect - no satisfactory partner for Gifton Noel-Williams; still no truly applicable job vacancy for Wright, Hazan and Gudmundsson - but it did demonstrate strength in depth.

And there was precious little of the unfamiliarity that usually plagues hastily assembled teams. On the contrary, apart from five minutes at either end, this was a cohesive, competent display, a full contribution to a very entertaining game. That has much to do with Richard Johnson, who had his most influential match of the season so far, both in terms of creation and destruction. It's immediately noticeable just how much stronger the side looks when he's on song.

So, as an early spell of Norwich pressing faded away, the Hornets began to show their credentials, not as cocky newcomers but as genuine First Division challengers. For me, watching the Bury goals on telly offered two moments of clattering realisation - the quality of Darren Bazeley's goal, sure, but also the sheer big-kid-in-the-playground power of Allan Smart's strike. Goddamn, this side has the potential to be as celebrated as any of its GT-assembled predecessors.

Having commented before the match that Bazeley was very likely to try and recreate his wonder-goal every time he received the ball, much as he did in the months after scoring that beauty at Northampton a couple of seasons back, it was no great surprise to see him taking flight after only five minutes. Amazingly, though, he nearly torpedoed my cynicism, dancing his way inside from the right wing and sending in a dipping shot from distance that Marshall tipped over.

Three minutes later, some of our most intelligent attacking play was rewarded. Alon Hazan's delicious flick found Gifton Noel-Williams. The teenager dodged this way and that while waiting for support, then smacked in a low cross towards Hazan at the far post. Norwich defender Jackson got in the way, but only succeeded in turning the ball into his own net. Lucky, yes, but the quality of the cross was critical - if you put defenders in desperate situations, they tend to do desperate things.

Shortly after Fugelstad had directed a tame header at Alec Chamberlain, the game laid on one of the most astonishing fifteen seconds of football we'll see this season. A neat Norwich move down the left wing resulted in a cross to the edge of the area and a knock-down for Bellamy. On the edge of the six yard box, the striker lined up a shot and found his attempt untidily blocked by the diving efforts of Steve Palmer. With the Watford defender floored, the ball bounced back to Bellamy and the goal gaped. It was 1-1. Except it wasn't, as Chamberlain dived and parried the shot with both hands. The ball returned to Bellamy, the goal still gaped as the Watford keeper scrambled to his feet. It was 1-1. Except it wasn't, as Chamberlain produced an even more miraculous save, one-handed, low to his right. Except it was, as Roberts poked the ball home from a yard out as it rolled across into his path. Except it wasn't, as he was offside.

So, when they did get around to equalising fifteen minutes later, it was kinda difficult to argue. Having already looked threatening on the break courtesy of the pace of Eadie and Bellamy, Norwich took full advantage of the failure of a Watford attack to storm forward. Eadie collected the ball just inside our half, found Bazeley dithering, took him on and hurtled towards the area. As Palmer came across to cover, he slipped a shot across Chamberlain and into the corner. If First Division players did that all the time, I'd be very worried - fortunately, they don't.

With five minutes of the half remaining, it was Watford's turn to be denied by great goalkeeping. Johnson won the ball in midfield and suddenly found that it had all opened up for him. He slid a pass for Hazan to run onto. The Israeli got there first, sized up his options, made Marshall dive the wrong way and passed the ball goalwards, only to find the outstretched leg of the Norwich keeper in the way.

Even if I was more in the mood for Horlicks than excitement, excitement was what we got in the second half. And no Horlicks at all, damn their eyes. Watford were more than occasionally superb after the break, not least in pressing Norwich so hard that at least one promising move retreated, intimidated and terrified, back into its shell.

It was end-to-end stuff. Nick Wright scampered down the left to play the ball into Noel-Williams, finger on the trigger, only for it to get the slightest and most vital of touches from a defender. Kennedy's corner was whipped into the near post, took a deflection from a defender and only split-second reactions from Marshall prevented the second own goal of the night. Two minutes later, Roberts was throwing himself at a pacy cross through the six yard box in a vain attempt to make the crucial contact.

Eadie, far more lively than the much-hyped Bellamy, turned to drive in a shot that Chamberlain gathered with relative comfort. Johnson thumped in a free kick from out on the left, forcing Marshall to tip the ball over as it swerved and dipped towards him. Mackey got on the end of a Norwich corner to head against the top of the bar.

If all of this makes it sound frantic rather than elegant, then that's unfair. Just as against Port Vale, we saw much direct, attacking football but little from either side that was ugly. We also saw a visiting team that had no reason to sit back and hope for a draw - although we are still finding it difficult to impose ourselves at home, the attempts are far more entertaining than against the sterile negativity of most of our Second Division guests.

One more thing before we dive back into the action. Gifton Noel-Williams, right bloody handful. While this may yet prove to be a temporary surge, he looks ready for anything for the first time. At last, he's more than an agent of chaos; at last, he's no longer the ugly duckling. He was asked to be the target man last night and that's exactly what he was, taking a battering yet still emerging with the ball at his feet, making defenders rather than team-mates work out what he'd do next. Gifton has arrived. Gifton looks the business.

Anyway, Marshall had to do well again on seventy-three minutes, to deny Micah Hyde this time. As a Watford corner broke down, Hyde picked the ball up on the left wing, skipped past two opponents and whipped in a low, curling shot from the edge of the box. It appeared destined for the bottom corner before the Norwich goalie dived down to push the ball wide with both hands. Not long afterwards, Eadie scythed his way into the area with Palmer in close attendance to shoot high into the side netting. Then Kennedy seized on a loose pass and sliced wildly over from just outside the area. Finally, in injury time, Johnson's left wing free kick flew right through the six yard box, evading both Noel-Williams and Palmer, and almost flicked the outside of the far post on its way out of play.

There it is, then. These conclusions are becoming tiresome, mainly because I have absolutely no complaints about this Watford side. I can only repeat myself - whether aided by luck or hampered by injuries, we are doing so well. Each passing week only makes life rosier.

So, where's that cup of tea, then?

Blessed
Report by Steve Harris

Ho-hum, it's so tedious. Same old end-to-end football. Predictable defence-splitting passes. Old fashioned wingers dancing past the opposing fullbacks, taking the English game back thirty years. Super-human reaction saves (those keepers MUST be on drugs). Long range thunderbolts that make my eyes go all funny. It's been like this for weeks now and I for one am getting a bit fed up with it.

YEAH, RIGHT!!!!!

I love this football team and I want to have its babies. Every single one of them (bless their cotton socks). Full of passion, determination and skill. These boys couldn't be more swash-buckling if they came sailing onto the pitch in an old Spanish Galleon and had Errol Flynn swinging into the penalty area on a rope with a cutlass between his teeth.

Exactly what you want from your side, really, and last night's game was exactly what you want from a football match.

It was yet another classic example of a full-blooded English thriller, hot on the heels of a dozen others we've been treated to lately (the type that used to frequent the old First Division before the money men moved in and took away the fire in the bellies). Are we blessed at the moment or what?!

Full credit to Norwich for their contribution. Like their East Anglia rivals Ipswich, they look like a team of thoroughbreds, capable of gaining a promotion place this year. But last night was about the Golden Boys. The fact that, even though half the squad in on the walking-wounded list, they still managed to make their opponents look second-best in every department, says it all about GT's latest creation.

Before kick-off, I thought this game was going to be mission impossible with so many players unavailable (especially "Dinosaur Man" Smart...er, that's a "Friends" reference. You see, tee hee, he looks a bit like Ross from Friends...) but I need not have feared. From the first kick, the game took off at a hell of a pace and it was a case of "hold on to your hats - here we go again". With Bazeley and Wright marauding down one side and Kennedy and Robinson down the other, Watford threatened to destroy their opponents in the first fifteen minutes. However, as with Bury on Saturday, they emerged from this spell with only a single goal advantage.

Gifton Noel-Williams was released on the right and he took the ball to the byline before cutting inside and releasing a rasping cross across the face of the goal. Before it could reach any oncoming Watford strikers on the far post, however, the ball was already in the back of the net and we all went "Hooray" very loud. I didn't actually see a deflection on the way in but the place the ball ended up was definitely not the place it was heading for when it left Gifton's boot. It was later confirmed as an O.G. (Matt "Luton Reject" Jackson, ha ha) but all credit to the young striker for delivering the type of cross that gives defenders terrible nightmares and keeps psychiatrists in work.

When allowed out of their own half, Norwich showed exactly why they're one of this year's promotion favourites. After a mind-boggling double save from Chamberlain, a third shot went in but was immediately ruled out, courtesy of an offside decision from the ref's assistant. A tad lucky that one.

They continued to counter-attack with pace and vision, however, and it was no great surprise to me when they finally equalised. A rather laboured Watford attack this time and when it broke down, The Canaries had the ball down our end of the pitch faster than you could say "Oh sh!t". Darren Eadie was put through on the right, he took the ball on to the edge of the box before letting fly with a superb shot past covering defender and keeper alike, into the far corner of the net.

This setback could easily have taken the wind out of the sails of the Good Ship Hornet. But this is a Graham Taylor side we're talking about here and they were soon back on their feet and at 'em once again.

Norwich had their moments leading up to half time but it was Watford who should have taken the lead. Alon Hazan was put clean through following great work by Jonno (I think) only to be denied by the keeper's legs. Hazan got a right old slagging-off for that miss from the bloke sat directly behind me, but for my money he hit it well and it took an excellent save from the Norwich number one to stop it. We give Chamberlain plaudits most weeks for these one-on-one wonder saves so I guess it's reasonable to assume other keepers can do it too on occasions. No?

After the break, Gudmundsson emerged in place of the struggling Hazan (he ain't no striker, no sir! - but Alon is for sure a quality player and I still reckon he'll come good if GT sticks with him). Apart from a header against the bar ten minutes from time, Norwich never really threatened to score and the second half was pretty much all Watford.

Peter Kennedy was in great corner-taking form and a particular nasty near post delivery eluded Page and bounced up goalward off of a startled defender. O.G. number two looked a cert.

Cue another wonderful reflex save from the opposing keeper.

This was followed by a Jonno special from 25 yards out after a particularly nasty tackle on Nick Wright. The free kick was heading six inches under the bar but.....

Cue another wonderful save from the opposing keeper.

The mercurial Mr Hyde then found himself out wide on the right and marked by several defenders. He somehow managed to shake them all off and unleashed the shot of the night, curling into the bottom, far corner of the net. A certain goal....

Cue another wonderful save from the opposing keeper. Someone take that boy Marshall out and shoot him for heaven's sake!!

I was starting to think that my mate Mick's £10 pre-match bet on a 1-1 draw was beginning to cast some kind of Voodoo-like spell on this game (damn him and his "gut feelings"). Tommy Mooney replaced the eager Nick Wright - full of ideas and running as ever - for the last fifteen minutes. Bazza was booked for a particularly bad "professional foul", stopping a Norwich striker getting clean away. A yellow card and lucky to get it!

One final curling free kick from Jonno that missed the far post by a whisker and it was all over.

Another fine performance then and another point from one of the better sides in this division. No disappointment around the ground at two points lost, just a lot of smiley, happy faces (especially from Mick, now 60 richer). Who says that the result is everything these days? Certainly not me, and not the many thousand fellow Hornets who've suffered too many dismal, dour performances over the last decade.

I shouldn't single any individuals from last night's makeshift, last minute, rummage-around-in-the-garden-shed-for-any-forgotten-players side for special praise because each and every man was at worst very good, and at best excellent. But heck, I'm going to anyway.

Richard Johnson was sublime. He was literally everywhere - tackling, passing, shooting, inventing cures for the common cold (I wish he bloody would - Ed). He was a hero. They're gonna have to get Sylvester Stallone to play him if they ever make "Watford FC - The Movie" (who the hell are they going to get to play Allan Smart, by the way? Answers on a postcard please). If he doesn't play for the Aussie national side soon - and there really is no excuse following El Tel's departure - then there is simply no justice in the world.

Onwards to the visit of Oxford and I've SOMEHOW got to pass the time before next Saturday's Matinee instalment of thrills and spills. So splice the main-brace and run up the Jolly Roger.

Go get 'em, boys!

Classic football
Report by Baz Barry

This was a thrilling and absorbing game. A cracking encounter, at times played at breathtaking pace. Both teams were intent on playing crisp, incisive football and foolish is the fan that doesn't try and see the Golden Boys when they're in this rich vein of entertainment. It takes two to work a seesaw and all credit to Norwich for making a game of it. Despite playing with a lone Roberts up front, they had Eadie and Bellamy close by, buzzing around creating mischief. Respect also to the referee, whose anonymity was a reflection of the quality of the play and his willingness to go with the flow.

Like Sheffield United and Birmingham, a draw was deemed a "fair result" by the impartial, but I'm biased and once again I thought we had the better of the game, the better chances and should have gone on to win. It seemed the crowd, and possibly the players, were happy with the point, but by watching his increasingly animated encouragement from the touchline, it was clear to see that GT wanted the win.

Any thoughts of a strikerless Watford team were instantly dispelled an hour before kick-off by a glance at the Ladbrokes odds for the first goal scorer. Top of the list was The Gift, followed by Hazan. How did they know? The swollen knee had gone and we had the makings of half a forward line. We started brightly but hardly rampagingly. Baze went on a Bury-esque run and shot, asking the impressive Marshall to make the first of many saves. Shortly after Hazan played in The Gift with a deft touch and his cross-shot from the right ended in the net. From the other end of the ground it looked an own goal and the lack of celebrations by the players supports this theory, but my spies (in the Rous) tell me it was going in anyway.

The Gift was a handful all night and gets my vote for the man of the match. He is coming on strong and terrorised their back three, giving as good as he got. He leads the line well, making the forward ball stick and giving the defence time to breathe. He just needs to work the goalie more, from inside and outside the area, and he'll be the finished article. And he's still only eighteen! Emile Heskey watch out.

The rest of the half saw both teams looking threatening. We seemed to make space out wide at will but too often the cross lacked pace, floating in to the hands of the unchallenged Marshall. The midfield looked creative and busy, with Johno excelling and Hyde eventually matching him after a poor start. Kennedy again looked good; taking a leaf out of our Australians "Book of Midfield Play" with some astonishing changes to the play from reverse crossfield passes. (If you were there, you'd know what I mean.)

Not content with making the now customary WonderSave in each game, Alec decides to double his contribution when within five seconds he repels a double whammy from Bellamy on the six yard box. Much to the delight of the Vicarage Road faithful, Roberts converts the third (or was it fourth) rebound from an offside position. Momentous stuff.

Their goal was very similar to the equaliser at Sunderland. Our attack breaks down, the referee ignores Johno's attempted GBH on the half way line, the ball quickly gets to Eadie on their left who skips past Baze's tackle and sprints into the space behind. Before the cover appears he passes the ball along the ground, beyond Alec and into the far corner. (The only difference being Johnston was unchallenged and finished with a clipped rising shot into the net.)

Although injured, the spirit of Allan Smart was clear to see. Collectively the whole team harassed Norwich throughout the game. Once, a tidy and harmless piece of second-half Norwich possession was instantly pressurised into an eventual backpass to the bewildered Marshall. Two other moments of pressure created a good chance in each half. On forty minutes Johno wins possession off their defence and puts Hazan through one-on-one with the goalie, only to see his goal bound shot cannoning off Marshall's legs. In the second half The Gift bullied the ball out to Kennedy on the edge of the box for his rocket to sail over the bar. He should have hit the target.

The second half started with Gudmundsson on for a disappointing Hazan. On this evidence the latter is not an out-and-out striker. He seemed puzzled by the attention he was getting from their defence and found some strangely impotent positions when the ball was played into the box. The former looked useful but not deadly.

Apart from a header onto the bar at a corner and a couple of misdirected shots, the second forty-five was all Watford. Wright sprinted down our left only for his clever ball into the middle to be hoofed away at the telling moment. Johno had a good free-kick tipped over. One blistering corner created panic and yet another save from Marshall. Hyde, picking up the loose pieces from another corner, cut inside a few challenges, and placed a low curling shot that was heading for the bottom corner before it too was palmed. And at the death, the on-rushing players diverted Marshall's attention when another Johno freekick curled its way inches past the post. The relief on Marshall's face was telling.

I was going to end with a parallel on the way the whinging McGhee is bemoaning his injury crises at Wolves but, hey, let's not drop down to his pitiful level. This is classic football in exciting times. Catch it while you can.

See also: Norwich Unofficial