Main Menu
What's New
98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 28/8/98
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Bazeley 1, Kennedy 2, Palmer 3, Page 4, Yates 3, Smart 3, *Hyde 4*, Ngonge 3, Johnson 3, Easton 3
Subs: Rosenthal (for Smart) 0, Hazan, Noel-Williams (for Ngonge) 0
Wolves 2(1)
Scorers: Bull (44), Keane (46)
Report by Ian Grant

Before we begin, a word or two about Steve Bull. You know how I feel about things - football is too full of people who see it as a cash cow, who have no love for the game or understanding of the supporters, who will gladly put principle and passion to one side at the offer of a hefty cheque. In 1998, the Wolves striker remains a singular, heroic figure. He ought to be appreciated by all, not just Wanderers fans - a reminder that not everyone is prepared to sell their soul, that some still believe.

He's not unique, of course. Nigel Gibbs only receives fewer accolades because his role is less glamourous. But watching Bull on Friday night - still fierce, still clinical - brought something home to me. It's been widely noted that Bull needs Wolves, that the Molineux club so obviously makes his heart beat and that he'd be half the player anywhere else. In this or any other era, that's beyond admirable. But it's been less widely noted how badly Wolves need Bull - increasingly, he is the only thing between them and Premiership-aspirant anonymity.

As ever, Steve Bull is a sore-thumb relic. As ever, he is branded 'unfashionable' because he's content to act out all our childhood dreams. Love him.

Shame, then, that he had to bugger up my eulogy by scoring against us and ruining my night.

The first weeks of the season have offered a microcosm of Division One. The majority, including the sides we've already beaten, are charitable enough both in missing and donating chances that we have nothing to fear. Then there are the serious contenders - the teams that punish errors, the teams that have dealt with us comfortably.

Being turned over by Wolves isn't a problem. While I find their failure to reach the Premiership hysterically funny, I'm not about to deny their obvious quality. It'll be a while yet before this Watford side is able to compete seriously with such massively-resourced clubs - in the meantime, we have to be sure that we do the business against the rest.

But that's not to be used as an excuse. While we can't expect to beat the likes of Wolves, we do have every right to expect a rather better attempt than this. For all the effort put in, there was a painful lack of attacking incision. To be denied by fine defending is one thing; to be denied by routine defending is a reflection of problems that Graham Taylor has yet to solve.

The way I see it, everything comes down to the wide players. The defence is currently over-generous but should adjust given time; the midfield is starting to fall into place; the attack shows promise; our wing play sucks. At no point in this match did either Darren Bazeley or Peter Kennedy make a serious attempt at delivering a cross from near the bye-line. On the one occasion when a Watford player - Steve Palmer, in rather unfamiliar territory - did manage it, he created the Hornets' only real opportunity from open play. That needs sorting.

No complaints about the scoreline. This was a sharp, penetrating Wolves performance and, from the moment Keane's left wing cross was fired over by Richards, there was always danger. Well though the Watford defenders played for most of the match - and Robert Page was in particularly determined mood - they simply weren't able to shut out the opposition with any consistency. Teams don't attack with quite the same unerring predictability in this division.

In stark contrast, lengthy passages of Watford possession produced little other than the occasional long range shot to punctuate some rather dour probing. Richard Johnson sent a rising drive just over the bar, Micah Hyde had a goal-bound effort blocked by a defender. Only the previously-mentioned adventure by Steve Palmer, bundling his way to the line and crossing for Michel Ngonge to head over after half an hour, showed any sign of yielding results. A minute later, another Palmer cross found Ngonge climbing with Stowell and pushing the ball over the Wolves keeper with his hand, an indiscretion for which he was rightly booked.

Wolves found another gear as half-time approached. First, Froggatt advanced into the area to shoot, forcing Alec Chamberlain into a solid double-handed save. Then rising star Keane began to turn it on, dragging an effort across the face of goal and then setting up Muscat for a shot over. Brief respite was provided by an intelligent move down the left involving Smart and Ngonge, the latter forced to try an ambitious curler due to lack of support.

And then we stopped concentrating. Having half-cleared what looked like being the final Wolves attack of the first forty-five, the defence made an almighty mess of the offside trap. Bull was left all on his own on the corner of the box. As Graham Turner once commented, his first touch was ponderous but he scored with his second, driving the ball accurately into the far corner. That was pretty much the last kick of the first half.

From pretty much the first kick of the second half, it was two. Froggatt's rampaging run all the way down the left wing did the damage, his low cross was converted by Keane in the middle. As an example of how to use width to get behind the opposition defence, it was significant.

For the remaining time, there was just desperately unconvincing Watford pressure. While Kennedy may have gone close with a couple of long range shots (one of which, from a free kick with Stowell comically charging across his line in completely the wrong direction, really was very close), neither he nor Bazeley made use of the possession given to them. On at least two occasions, Johnson played one of his stock passes, sliding the ball through the gap between full back and central defender, only to find that Bazeley had stopped running, unwilling to take any kind of gamble. Commitment doesn't have to mean vein-popping shouting, studs-up lunges or blood-soaked aggression. Sometimes commitment means nothing more than taking a chance on looking stupid.

Ngonge and Smart didn't get a look in. Flinging hopeful crosses into the box from deep just ain't going to get results at this level. Or it won't without a real aerial threat like the now-departed Jason Lee, which raises the question of whether we should be picking the forwards for the service they ought to be receiving or the service they are receiving.

It was pretty painful to watch. The gap in class is inevitable at this stage but it'd be nice if we didn't have it rammed down our throats quite so forcefully. Only one real chance fell our way in the second half, Yates meeting a corner at the far post, Froggatt blocking his header on the line. The arrival of Ronny Rosenthal and Gifton Noel-Williams made no noticeable difference, for fairly obvious reasons - all problems were with supply, not finishing.

Things could've been worse, mind. Johnson, who looked increasingly weary having played three games in seven days so soon after injury, was caught in possession and Chamberlain made a fine save to push Keane's shot round the post. From the resulting corner, Hyde cleared Richards' free header off the line. With ten minutes left, it was Kennedy's turn to save on the goalline after the ball had cannoned around from another Richards header.

Apart from the late - and hugely popular - return of the prodigal, the match fizzled out with the away side in total control. Away wins really don't get much more comprehensive. Beaten on the telly yet again....

Not the end of the world, though. Once more, it's worth remembering that this is only the fifth game of a difficult campaign in a higher division and that we've yet to find a settled starting line-up. As previously noted, wide players apart, that regular eleven is becoming clearer but only once it's loomed fully into view will we be able to judge.

So, yes, this was pants. But it needn't be a sign of things to come.

See also: Wolves unofficial