Bits and pieces
Report by Ian Grant
There is indeed only one Graham Taylor. Faced with such a saggy, stagnant performance
as Tuesday's, the best club manager in the country responded with his traditional brilliance.
The shake-up saw changes everywhere - Smart, Hazan, Easton, Robinson all coming in, with Mooney,
Daley, Hyde and the suspended Iroha making way. The formation, something akin to "the Christmas tree" or
"the bell bottom" or "the toothless hag" or whatever Don Howe's calling it this week, was even less
But anyone can shuffle a pack of cards. The point is that, plunged into a right old scrap, they
played like a team. One man's "patched-up team" is GT's "revised line-up". Showing as much
fight as Mike Tyson after ten cans of Red Bull is one thing, using the occasional lulls
to play some bright, snappy football is quite another. But for an absurd penalty, this
would've been a decisive away win.
Mind you, it might've been different. Those who've been ranting on about Micah Hyde
giving the ball away in crucial areas must've been horrified to see Alon Hazan committing the
same crime within the first minute. Having looped the ball aimlessly up in the air, he
compounded the error by heading it straight to a Rangers player. Rose was played through immediately
and only decisive action from Alec Chamberlain, out in an instant to block the shot, rescued
us from a disastrous start.
Although Nick Wright latched onto a Hazan pass to shoot wildly after three minutes, the tentative
opening continued. Both Hazan and Easton took time to adjust to the pace of the game and, not
for the last time, we relied on the strength of the defence to keep us out of trouble.
But we did settle. Beyond the ten minute mark, we saw a more impressive Watford. With a
narrower formation than is traditional, we were reliant on the movement of the midfielders
and forwards. And they obliged - Johnson occupying the centre, Smart leading the line, the
rest buzzing around purposefully. For a while, we were actually rather good. Sorry if I
Ironic that, for all our tidy passing, the first goal should come via a more direct method.
You could almost hear the gleeful gurgles from the press box as Chamberlain claimed a
Rangers cross and smacked a drop-kick deep into their half. But don't let that fool you -
whatever the supply route, this was a strike of blazing brilliance. The clearance by-passed
Smart, got a touch on from Maddix and bounced on to Wright on the right corner of the box. He allowed it to drop and hit
it on the half-volley, dipping evilly across Miklosko's goal and into the bottom corner, before sauntering
back to the halfway line to dedicate his masterpiece to the away fans. Bloody fantastic.
From then on, the whole thing became distinctly irritable and tetchy, not helped by a
dreadful referee who dished out cards with no consistency whatsoever. The battle of the day
between Iain Dowie and Robert Page became particularly heated - in between the bouts of
wrestling, the Rangers striker momentarily had the upper hand and Peacock mis-kicked from
one of his knock-downs when he should've done better.
Otherwise, although there were regular alarms, Rangers were kept at arm's length. Murray
went close from distance; Peacock went closer, forcing Chamberlain to parry his drive. But
despite occasional lapses and the struggle to stop Dowie winning everything in the air, the
Watford defence looked solid enough for those watching to feel confident about having a half-time
lead. That feeling intensified as Peacock blew another chance, bumbling his way into the
six yard box without ever bringing the ball under control and then falling over rather desperately.
Even if we'd not especially threatened the Rangers goal since Wright's opener, our general
sense of purpose remained. A protracted pass 'n' move session on the left wing,
instigated by the emerging Easton and involving at least three others, presumably fell
on blind eyes in the press box. Or maybe they'd all gone to the bar. Anyway, it ended with a splendid dummy by Smart to allow the ball
through to Kennedy. His turn was quick enough to afford a shooting opportunity - unfortunately,
it flashed across goal and just the wrong side of the far post.
Had justice not ultimately been done, the next paragraph or so would've been somewhat
less calm. The penalty, right on the stroke of half-time, was ludicrous - all the more so
because it cancelled out such a wonderful goal. As a high ball came into the Watford area,
it appeared to hit a Rangers player on the hand, prompting a loud appeal from the away end. It was
then cleared, by which time I was unsighted, everything was chaos and the referee was pointing
to the spot. Watch it back on video and you'll see Steve Palmer actually applauding immediately
after the whistle, before the horror of what's really happened dawns on him. I mean, short of arm amputation, it's extremely difficult to see what anyone's supposed to do
when the ball's rebounding around like that - your hand's got to be somewhere. But no amount of protesting by Palmer - and he was in
conversation with the official for a considerable time - could change the decision.
Peacock's penalty was poor, Chamberlain guessed correctly and got his hand to the ball low to his
left. But if anything he got too much onto it, only pushing it back to the edge of the
six yard box, and Peacock was able to redeem himself on the follow-up.
That changed the whole game. At a stage when Watford were tightening their grip on the
match, the home side were suddenly and inexplicably back in it. Unsurprisingly, they
came steaming at us after the break.
For twenty minutes, we were unable to do anything but defend like lunatics and welly the ball
in the general direction of Allan Smart. Wave after wave of Rangers attacks eroded our hopes
of three points. Yet the trusty notebook reveals that those twenty worrying minutes produced
nothing more than a Dowie header and a Gallen shot, both straight at Chamberlain. The back four,
particularly Page and Palmer, were simply magnificent; QPR were trying to bash their way
through a brick wall.
So Tommy Smith replaced Alon Hazan and you know the rest. His first touch was good, winning the
ball on the edge of the area and holding off a defender to allow Johnson to take characteristic
control. Johnno rolled one of his prompting passes - the ones that not only find a colleague but
implicitly tell him what to do - for Wright on the wing. He did as instructed, rolling a cross
into the near post where Smith was lurking unmarked - his second touch was that of a true goalscorer, completely
mis-hitting his finish...but perfectly so to elude the keeper's dive. He'll remember that moment for the rest of
his life - and one suspects that over the years to come Watford fans will be talking about seeing Tommy Smith's first
Two minutes later, QPR came very, very close to grabbing another equaliser. Given a bit of time to
pick his spot, Gallen lashed in a curling shot from outside the box and Chamberlain had to be at
his very best, hurling himself acrobatically to tip it away from the top corner.
With the number of yellow cards being thrown around by the referee, it was inevitable that
someone would be taking an early bath. Rangers defender Maddix can count himself a little
unfortunate, in all honesty. His late lunge on Smart was certainly worth a second booking yet others, including
Johnson and Smart, were walking on very thin ice with similar offences after earlier cautions. With the match
naturally opening up as the home side pushed forward, the numerical advantage told - Nick Wright in particular
was able to operate in acres of space whenever Watford broke.
Again, the Rangers pressure was pretty incessant but equally ineffective. Substitute Jeanne cut inside to send a
rising shot just wide while Dowie remained an irritation, but we were always dangerous
on the counter-attack. Wright fired a shot straight at Miklosko and also failed to provide
Smith with a clear run on goal during a later break. And, in the last minute, Johnson released Kennedy (who
spent the final moments of the match popping up absolutely everywhere) but his
fiercely driven effort was pushed away by the Rangers keeper. For once, injury time was spent
happily watching Watford retaining possession in the opposition half, making full use not only of the
extra player but of superior control.
Not an easy game to draw conclusions from, really. All bits and pieces, few clear patterns and
even fewer match-long constants. Which is fine, because I don't much
feel like worrying about what the future holds.
Y'see, this is what I want. One mighty blast from a young star, one memorable moment from an
emerging youth team product. A team of small-scale signings, home-grown talent and experienced pros
playing like they were enjoying it. An away win which, despite the league positions of the two
sides, still felt like a poke in the eye for natural order. I ask for nothing more from my football
team, I'm happy for the chequebook to stay shut.
To put it another way, if you dump seventeen tons of fertiliser onto your flower beds, then your
roses might grow. Or you might just have an expensive garden that stinks of poo.
See also: QPR Unofficial