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98/99: Reserves:

Avon Insurance Combination, 2/9/98
Brighton Res 0(0)
Watford Res 6(1)
Team: Day, Gibbs, Perpetuini, Grieves, Pluck, Panayi, Daley, Smith, Noel-Williams, Wright, Mooney
Subs: Andrews, Boyce (for Perpetuini), Cornock (for Panayi)
Scorers: Smith 2 (1 pen), Wright, Pluck, Noel-Williams 2
Report by Ian Grant

Watford's strong reserve line-up proved to be too much for Brighton at rainy Worthing last night. Even with the recent clear-out of forward players, it's clear that the second eleven is likely to contain some household names and familiar faces this season - in the end, that extra quality and strength turned a competitive game into a rout.

The first key moment of the match came after thirty minutes. Up to that point, the Hornets had been dominating without looking particularly threatening, although Tommy Mooney had gone close. Then Tommy Smith wriggled his way past defenders to work an opportunity inside the area, only to see his certain goal stopped by the hand of Peter Smith on the line. The Albion defender was sent off, the Watford youngster scored from the spot.

That was all that divided the teams at half-time. The better side was ahead, no question - but the better side might've made more of several promising openings. They went on to do just that after the break.

The second key moment was ten minutes after the re-start. A header from a Brighton corner was successfully and brilliantly blocked on the goalline by Nigel Gibbs, despite claims from home supporters that the ball had crossed the line. Having survived that scare, Watford went on the offensive - almost immediately, Nick Wright scored the goal of the game, cutting inside from the right wing and whipping a shot into the top corner. Within a couple of minutes, it was three as Colin Pluck stabbed a corner in from close range.

After a fifteen minute respite, during which the Albion produced some fairly concerted pressure, Watford finished the game with a flurry of goals. Gifton Noel-Williams, lively and strong throughout, scored with a header from a corner and then cheekily back-heeled the fifth into an empty net after Tommy Mooney's shot had been saved. Late in the game, Tommy Smith grabbed his second of the night with a mazy run through the disheartened Brighton defence.

Ultimately, such a stress-free victory tells us little about the players currently competing for first team places. We'd expect nothing less than calm professionalism from Nigel Gibbs, regardless of the opposition, so it's hardly headline news that he was calmly professional last night. Similarly, that the likes of Nick Wright, Gifton Noel-Williams and Tommy Smith shone brightly is unlikely to make much difference to their chances.

However, two players' performances did make for extremely interesting viewing. Tommy Mooney, despite enjoying more chances than any other Watford player and occasionally lurching into life, seems extremely subdued. That's frustrating, since recent efforts by Peter Kennedy have suggested that a bit of competition for the left midfield position might not go amiss.

Tony Daley, meanwhile, seems to be slipping out of the first team frame altogether. Touches of absolute class remain but his insistence on cutting inside at every opportunity means that he usually faces the task of dribbling past the entire opposition defence. If that doesn't work against Brighton reserves, it sure as hell ain't going to work against the likes of Sunderland. On the one occasion when he did choose to go outside, he beat his opponent comfortably and whipped in a dangerous cross from the bye-line. Until he does that more regularly, his talent is completely wasted.