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98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 14/11/98
Stockport County 1(1)
Scorers: Dinning (38 pen)
Watford 1(1)
Team: Chamberlain 2, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 3, Page 4, Palmer 4, Robinson 3, Smart 4, Hyde 4, Noel-Williams 4, *Johnson 4*, Wright 3
Subs: Gudmundsson, Pluck, Mooney (for Robinson) 3
Scorers: Johnson (9)
Counting our blessings
Report by Paul Goldsmith

It's hard to know how to feel after this game. On the one hand, one could say that Watford lost two points, having been in the lead and lost it to a rather dubious penalty, and had many more good chances.

On the other hand, Stockport created enough clear cut chances to have won the game comfortably, creating further frustration by the fact that they had no finishing power, and were therefore even luckier to have been given the penalty.

What is reasonably indisputable is that this was a thoroughly engrossing game, where neither set of supporters could feel comfortable that they were going to receive any points at all until the final whistle. Therefore, a game worth travelling for.

Watford played in the 4-4-2 formation, with Allan Smart replacing Johann Gudmundsson, and Nicky Wright dropping back to the right wing. This added to the Hornets' work rate and striking experience, but seemed to reduce the imagination of the team, as the Icelander had produced some moments of inspiration in his few matches which suggested he would be the sort of player that should be on the field more for what he COULD do.

What is certain is that Watford do not have any real natural finishers in their team. But sometimes they just don't need them. In the eleventh minute the ball came out of the Stockport area in the general vicinity of Richard Johnson. The away fans knew what was coming. The defender rushing towards the ball to try and be there before Johnson knew what was coming. To be honest, Stockport goalkeeper Carlo Nash knew what was coming. But that doesn't mean he could do anything about the ball screaming past him and into the right hand corner of the goal. The celebrations were ecstatic, Hornets fans could be excused for thinking that another three away points were on their way.

Stockport were a spirited team. Led up front by the Devon White-esque Brett Angell, and the ex-Luton player Graham Branch, they had an obvious aerial advantage (as do every team playing Watford nowadays!) but still did not look like scoring. They created the chances, but to be honest there wasn't a barn door that was quivering at the thought of these banjo-wielders hitting them.

Watford had their chances to go further ahead, but, despite the quality of crosses coming in, there really was nobody to meet them with any purpose. Gifton Noel-Williams may be 6'2", but he plays like he's Nigel Gibbs in the air. Nicky Wright had a header wide, and Nash had to save well from Smart.

And so it went. The rest of the half was end to end, but with no real quality. Stockport found it easy to get behind the defence, but as long as Chamberlain was awake, he was under no real danger. Then, he fell asleep. It was only for a moment, but it was enough for Graham Branch to steal a march on the Watford keeper, and race into the penalty area after a through ball. By the time Chamberlain came to meet the ball, it was too late. Branch made the most of the challenge, knocking the ball on, probably for a goal kick, but Chamberlain's arms were also there or thereabouts, in the vicinity of the Stockport striker's legs. And Branch thought it would be a good idea to fall over there and then. So he did. Penalty.

The Hornet fans were apoplectic. But, to be honest, only a brave referee would turn that down, and this one was not brave at all. Chamberlain should only have gone for the ball if he had had a real chance of getting there. Branch, even if he had reached the ball, would have had to go wide, and the danger may have been averted. As it was, it was a penalty, and despite the best and rather hilarious efforts of the Watford fans to put off the taker, the ball went straight in.

One rather worrying and in fact annoying facet of the half was that there were at least two players booked for dissent. This is a flagrant waste of time, and is also irresponsible. Richard Johnson's booking in particular was totally unnecessary.

The second half was an interesting display of First Division football. Stockport tried the long ball, Watford tried the wing route. Neither were particularly successful.

Nick Wright is not really a winger, but he should be in the team, as he seems to be a quality player. From one of his better crosses, Allan Smart had a headed chance. He got the ball down, but Carlo Nash was up to the challenge, the Stockport keeper palming away the goalbound ball. It could be said that a more experienced striker would have sent the ball back whence it came into the opposite corner of the goal, thus negating the advantage Nash had in being able to dive the same way as he was running.

When the corner was cleared, the ball came back from a Palmer header, straight to the corner taker, Micah Hyde. The Watford midfielder had rather fortuitously got himself back into an onside position. And so we were behind the County defence. Hyde looked up and put across the right ball, low and hard on the six yard line. Allan Smart slid in, but unfortunately managed to hit Nash's legs with his effort. These chances should be put away, they really should.

Stockport got through twice, but on both occasions, the shot was smacked wide. On both occasions, there was a loud sigh of relief from the away fans.

Both Gifton Noel-Williams and Micah Hyde had good chances from there on in, but it just wasn't to be.

To sum up Stockport's performance, Carlo Nash, the goalkeeper, was their man of the match, a decision that many of the Watford fans agreed with. They are not a strong team, and will be happy with a comfortable mid table position.

It was unfortunate that Kenny Jackett felt it unnecessary to change around the attacking formation with twenty minutes to go. Nobody disagreed with his decision to send on Tommy Mooney for Paul Robinson, who had been booked, and seemed to be on some kind of sugar high at the beginning of the second half. But Johann Gudmundsson was on the bench, and should have been used. However, there has always been some doubt as to whether Kenny Jackett realises that the team has an attack and is supposed to score goals. That doubt remains.

Steve Palmer and Robert Page had commanding games, against bigger and faster (Branch) players. Peter Kennedy was his now usually anonymous self. Darren Bazeley useful in the attacking half, but suspect as always in defence. Watford's man of the match? Well, there is only one Johno.

So Watford go third. If offered this at the beginning of last season, I doubt many of the Hornets fans would have turned it down. But it is plain that Watford could have many more points. Perhaps it is encouraging that third place isn't a matter of luck. Let's count our blessings.

Report by Ian Lay

Am I dreaming? Could it really be true? Are we third in the First Division? Do Pete Fincham and Rupe sleep in the same bed with long johns on their heads?

The answers to those questions I have been reliably told are; No, Yes, Yes and read the front of next week's "News of the World".

How many games have we played this season when we've won but you couldn't say with absolute assuredness that we deserved it? There has been a few. Bolton and Bury away for instance. So I suppose, to use a horrible cliche that will make Ig wince, what goes around comes around. Or some bollocks like that anyway.

We should have beaten Stockport, we deserved to beat Stockport. But we found another side with a damn good keeper. Mr. Nash please step forward and take a bow for completely ruining my day. Git.

Oh, by the way though did I tell you that we are third?

The day hadn't started well. An early start to get up to Stockport by ten-ish for a WIFC match. Pete got up late. Evo had to phone him to remind him that it was actually Saturday morning and not Friday afternoon. Pete jumps in car and makes mad dash to Hemel (where Evo lives) to get lift up to Stockport. On arriving at Hemel it appears that Evo has sodded off without him. Pete phones Adrian (who's taking Collete, Russ Barker, Andy Stocks and myself up to the game) to tell us what the situation is. I'm going spare with the prospect of our captain not being at the game on time. And where is Evo? He's nipped down to MacDonalds to get some breakfast. Aaaahhhhh.

Anyway, they all got there in the end, in the same car as well. And we got stuffed...7-2.... And I don't want to talk about it anymore...okay!!!

(Complete change of direction of report as Ian decides to stop talking complete crap, and just talk utter bollocks instead.)

So to the game. Okay, well, let's talk about the ground first. Out of date is the best way to describe it. Which means it gets my vote any day of the week. It's nice to be able to stand on some terracing for a change. It's also nice to not get shafted financially when you go to get some food. First trip was for a hot dog, which most hot dogs, i.e. edible. Cost one pound and fifty new pence. It was actually nicer than the ones at Vicarage Road and fifty pence cheaper. Still hungry a little later, so it's off for more food. This time to indulge myself with a meat and potato pie. Excellent. Very tasty and satisfying. Cost? One pound and twenty pence.

I do not think I will ever buy food from Vicarage Road again.

Thank you for watching "Floyd gets drunk on lots of red wine and then goes to football grounds to eat some nosh".

If anyone hasn't realised yet...we are third in Division One. Just thought I'd point that out.

So standing on the terracing...and it didn't rain. Which was nice because earlier it looked like it was going to urinate from a great height.

We opened the game like we were already 1-0 down. I can't remember Stockport getting out of their own half until after Johnson scored. Eleven minutes gone and Stockport found themselves defending desperately in their own area. The ball popped out to Johnson and from about twenty yards he let rip as only Johno can. If he had been in bed he would have blown the duvet clean off and probably deposited it across the radiator. The power of the fart travelled down his leg and in a blur had made contact with the ball which, knowing when to get out of town when Johno drops one, quickly shot off in the direction of the goal and buried its head in the back of the net.

It took a few seconds before the players celebrated with Johno as they didn't want to get too close until the smell had dissipated.

(Engage sanity check)
(Sanity check running}
(Results being processed)
(Sanity is not confirmed)
(Conclusion pending)
(Conclusion being processed)
(Conclusion is that Ian Lay - nickname Taz - is suffering from an acute case of being absolutely mad)
(Proposed remedy)
(Proposal being processed)
(Proposal for remedy in five seconds)
(Sanity program ends)


Ha ha, missed me.

So it continued (the game that is, not my mental state) in a similar fashion for most of the first half. We had several good chances to increase our lead. Wright and Smart both going close. But a combination of poor finishing, bad luck and good goalkeeping kept us at bay.

So when they got their equaliser, it was difficult not to feel slightly robbed. And it wasn't even half time yet.

But we went third anyway.

Chamberlain came off his line to intercept Graham Branch who had broken free of our defence. He was going away from the goal, however, and really not going to pose any danger. But having committed himself Alec couldn't pull out of the attempt to win the ball and Branch made the most of what contact there was and went down. Penalty.

To be fair, despite whether Branch dived or not (and I think even Stockport supporters will agree that he did), if Chamberlain made contact then under the rules of the game it's a penalty. But unfortunately the people who enforce the rules are not consistent. Some could argue that Branch should have been booked for diving. And to be fair they would have a point. However, you look at that penalty and look at the rules you can't fail to realise that Branch cheated to get his penalty. He could have easily stayed on his feet but he chose to dive and see if he got a penalty. He did, and I've seen many a player do exactly the same on our team. Rosenthal springs to mind and so does Craig Ramage.

So you have a contradiction here. It's a penalty because, as Adrian Spender pointed out to me, "It's a foul in the box and therefore a penalty". Good point and correct. However, Branch cheated so should have been booked and therefore it shouldn't have been a penalty. Also correct, I would argue. Also not every foul in the box leads to a penalty. I think in particular of shirt pulling by defenders on attackers.

In the end you are left with the referee and how they will interpret the decision. And in the end it doesn't matter much what the rule book says or what you may think personally. In the end it's the ref who makes the decision. And invariably, if you asked ten refs about the penalty decision on Saturday you would probably get a fifty-fifty split on it. Unfortunately we got the wrong ref. Ho hum.

So 1-1, but you just felt we had to win this one. But in the end we didn't, despite having many good chances in the second half. Gifton and Hyde both had chances blocked by defenders or Stockport keeper Nash. And Nash pulled off one stunning save from Smart when it looked all the way that Allan's glancing header was going in the top corner.

But somehow we just couldn't find the finishing touches to some good moves or find that decisive defence-splitting ball.

Stockport had their moments as well. At least two or three shots that went inches wide of Chamberlain's posts. But it is probably a sad reflection on their forwards' ability that Chamberlain didn't have to make a save of any note all afternoon.

Someone told me, I don't know who, that taking into account positions in the league table at five pm on Saturday afternoon, that we are, to be blunt, and put it in a nutshell...erm...third.

As for individual performances....

Chamberlain, as already stated, had nothing to do but made the mistake of conceding the penalty. Alec rarely lets us down, but on Saturday he made one of his rare errors of judgement.

The defence was solid and rarely looked troubled. This was due mainly to the fact that Robert Page is back to his best at present. Smoker worked well off him, Robinson was as determined as ever and Bazeley defended well and got forward to put in some good crosses, particularly in the second half.

Kennedy on the left had another good game. He's getting more crosses in than he was at the beginning of the season. And I think that the 4-4-2 formation is benefiting him more than most. Nick Wright...on the right...tee hee...also had a good game. Though he's not a right midfielder to be honest and I think Gudmundsson should have had a run out because he's got that little bit of vision which we could have done with in the second half.

Up front, Gifton and Smart did well. With a bit more luck they could have both been on the scoresheet. But they haven't played together as a pair for a whole game much this season so it is understandable that they didn't click completely.

But the heart of the side is where the most damage was done. Micah Hyde and Richard Johnson controlled the midfield for the most part. Johno scored a great goal and did all things that Johno does and Hyde had one of his best games this season. Micah was everywhere and for once hardly had a misplaced pass and was for me our man of the match.

So one point that should have been three. But, hey, everyone draws with Stockport and you've got to remember that that singular point has taken us to third in the...


(You got me that time)

(Thank gawd for that - Ed)

See also: Stockport unofficial