|Avon Insurance Combination, 21/4/99|
|Watford Res 5(0)||Easton 2, Pluck, Smith, Gudmundsson|
|Northampton Res 0(0)|
|Team: Day, Gibbs, Perpetuini, Bakalli, Ward, Pluck, Gudmundsson, Smith, Ngonge, Easton, Lambert|
As the race for the Avon Insurance Combination title hots up, it was very disappointing to see such a sparse crowd at Northwood for this encounter. The attendance of 128 was well down on this season's average, to those supporters who decided to forsake the Stiffs in favour of watching Manchester United - untold shame on you, you should follow the example of Kevin Birdseye who wins my vote for supporter of the season as he had come all the way over from Belgium just to see this vital Stiffs encounter. As we arrived at the ground, Clint Easton sees us and suddenly shouts out to Andy Stocks "Oi Bazeley why arent you playing!"
A new face was in the Watford line up, "Gentleman" James Lambert, former Reading wunderkid, who when he first broke into the Reading team several years ago was invited to Monaco for a trial at the age of seventeen. From what I hear he has actually been at Borussia Dortmund recently but tonight was at Chestnut Avenue. He played very well and looks an interesting proposition. Northampton had their sixty-seven year old manager Ian Atkins playing at centre-half and cor blimey theres old Paul Wilkinson at number nine. It was sad to see Wilko completely past it and playing for Northampton stiffs.
Watford started very well hoping to put their last two very poor Stiffs displays behind them. Kicking towards the car park end we took the lead with a Clint Easton sizzler from about 25 yards out. Colin Pluck got a touch to a swirling cross from Lambert for the second and then Johann Gudmundsson scored but I only saw it go over the goal-line as I was halfway through counting the crowd. At half time I had a very pleasant chinwag with Mike Katz and his seven year old son whose Watford knowledge was most commendable.
As the second half started, a young lad came up to me and said "Rupert, I have just counted the crowd and it is 84". I asked him when he had counted and he said right now just as the second half had kicked off. I had to tell the young fellow the golden rule of crowd counting - you must never count the crowd just before or after half-time as many supporters will be in the bar having a drink, you must count the crowd either half way through the first half or half way through the second half when everyone has arrived and nobody has left. Howard told me that the crowd was 125 as the total Northampton support of three had left in disgust after they had gone 4-0 down but I told him that as they had come to the match their attendance still counted.
In the second half, we kept the pressure on. Kicking towards the cemetery end, the Horns were awarded a free kick just outside the box on the right hand side of the goal. Clint Easton stepped up and smashed a beauty into the top left hand corner. A further goal came from Johan Gudmundsson after some great build up play. All in all this was a thoroughly professional and impressive performance from the Stiffs although Northampton were a very poor outfit. We go top of the table tonght and with two games remaining the race for the title looks like going right to the wire.
I expect many people stayed away from this fixture due to watch some other game that was on TV. Well, you may have seen five goals on the telly, but you missed the Hornets scoring five as well.
I arrived at this game with Rupe and it was immediately clear that the attendance would be low. The team lined up as follows:
Chris Day, Nigel Gibbs, David Perpetuini, Adrian Bakalli, Darren Ward, Colin Pluck, Johann Gudmundsson, Tommy Smith, Michael Ngonge, Clint Easton, Jamie Lambert
Subs:- Lee Jonson, Stephen Brooker, Matthew Langston. All unused.
You will note a new name there. Apparently Jamie Lambert, formerly of Reading and I think on loan from Borussia Dortmund (I could be wrong, my memory is straining there). Yes, that is the precociously talented Jamie Lambert that some of the more well-informed of you will have heard of. More about him later. Paul Wilkinson was named, but on the Northampton team. It wasn't long before his arm was up appealing!!
During the warm-up, the ball was kicked out, I caught it, and Clint Easton shouts out "Oi Bazeley, you should be out here with us!", at which point a few of the other player stopped and looked at me, then chuckled. I imagine it's all true, I must look like him. Even the players think so!!
Almost as soon as it started Ngonge was put through after a lob over the top, he raced through but pulled his shot wide. Northampton had a couple of early chances as well, but Watford soon settled down and took total control. The first goal was a fantastic strike by Easton from 25 yards, which was placed into the top corner. He knew exactly where he wanted the ball to go, what a great goal.
Gibbsy was causing havoc down the right with some great overlapping runs, and Johann was very lively out on the right wing as well. Some of Gibbsy's crosses were excellent, several headers narrowly went over. Ngonge looked very hungry, and I can't remember him being ruled offside either. He's obviously been working on timing those runs. This guy is lightning quick and he now looks fitter than I've seen him.
Jamie Lambert looked like a class act on the left. That is one area that I think that we are short of cover in, so it was good to see us trying someone out. Obviously it was his first match, so judgments on him would be unfair, but he looks good.
The second goal was a bit of a scramble in the goalmouth following a corner that Pluck pushed over the line. 2-0. Within a couple of minutes it was three. Tommy Smith with that one, can't remember much about it though. So, half time and 3-0.
The thing I love about the reserve games is that it's so friendly and relaxed. I had a nice chat with Graham Taylor, who said that the pitch up at Vale was terrible, and he had no problem with the cancellation. This pleased Mr Birdsye, who had come over from Brussells for the Vale match, but settled for the Reserves. He seemed suitably consoled following a chat with GT. Nice to have a talk with Andrew French as well. I told them how happy I am about the move to the Rookery, they seemed pleased as I think they expected some hostility to it.
The second half began in much the same way as the first half ended. We were in control. The work rate of Ngonge really must be mentioned. He chased, challenged and generally harrassed Northampton all evening. His heading was excellent, he won everything.
By this time I had met Mike Katz and his great seven year old son, Richard. Richard knew everything about Watford, a right little statto in the making. It was a pleasure meeting you, I hope we meet up again soon. Young Richard is a very talkative fellow, until I introduced him to GT, then he lost his tongue completely. Up until then he had been pestering Mike to take him to see GT. I must say, GT was excellent, he had a good chat with Richard, who seemed in awe of the great man. Thanks Graham, that was really nice.
Clint Easton got his second after a bit of a scramble, which was our fourth. By this time Paul Wilkinson was playing in their defence doing a marking job on Ngonge, but Ngonge was still winning everything. He really had a great game and was thoroughly committed.
Our fifth was by far the best. A good shot from Gudmundsson followed an intricate passing movement. Absolutely top class. Then, Ngonge went in hard on the goalkeeper, with justification, only to have Wilkinson manhandle him and start pushing and shouting at him. The Ref then waded in and warned Ngonge, somewhat harshly I thought. Then the ref showed us what a pr*ck he is. At this point we had three minutes left, and he had a go at Ngonge for wearing a ring. Ngonge didn't understand, and the ref went mad. He started yelling at him. GT, from the crowd, exchanged a bit of verbal with the ref, as he tried to explain to Ngonge that he should go to the bench. Poor Ngonge didn't have a clue about what was going on. Quite why his ring was only spotted in the 87th minute, or why it suddenly became so important late on was a complete mystery to me.
Anyway, the game ended, and 5-0 was a fair reflection of the game. It also sent us back to the top of the combination league, after Charlton had won 5-0 earlier in the day. Unfortunately they have two games in hand.
My MOM has to be Ngonge, for sheer effort. He deserved a goal. Lambert was busy throughout, but I'm not sure about his match fitness. His wages must be high too. Still, he would be a good addition to the squad. As Slater is clearly out of the running now, we need a quality player out on the left to add a bit of competition for places. He would probably be on a free as well.
So, a composed performance in defence, with only a couple of scares. Easton had a great game, along with Bakalli, who was as good as I have seen him. He appears to be settling in well now, and looks a good prospect. Everyone played well, it was a class performance. These reserve games really are good fun.