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98/99: Review:
By Ian Lay
A new season, a new division and pretty good weather in August. Oh, we must be blessed.

I think the only way to describe the opening month is "a mixed bag". Watford swayed from the ordinary to the sublime and back to the ordinary.

The opening game of the season was away at Portsmouth. A good test to see how we would fare against what I would describe as one the "mid-table" sides for this year. It was hot... very hot. Someone mentioned that down on the pitch it was one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And it seemed that way as the players (more Watford) found it tough going. For forty-five minutes, we were second best and going in 1-0 down at half time was a fair reflection of the half. But things changed after the break. We looked more inventive and the introduction of Darren Bazeley with about twenty-five minutes to go gave us some much needed width. But with ten minutes remaining it looked as if our first game back in Division One was going to end in defeat. That was before the most bizarre own goal I have seen for many years. Micah Hyde, from just inside the Portsmouth half, sent a fairly hopeful ball towards the opposition's penalty box. There wasn't a Watford player in sight, but for some reason the defender who was underneath the pass decided that he was going to attempt to head the ball away rather than let it drop gently into the approaching keeper's hands. The attempted clearance turned into a back header which looped over the keeper, dropped just before the goal line and bounced into the net. We couldn't believe our luck.

To be fair, we deserved the equaliser, even though it was a fortunate way to get it. What we didn't deserve was a winner a few minutes later. Bazeley beat his marker on the right wing and sent in an inch perfect cross for Jason Lee who powered his header past the Portsmouth keeper.

A great, if a little fortunate, start to the season.

Next up was Cambridge in the first round first leg of the newly-sponsored Worthington League Cup. We had played Cambridge a few weeks before in a friendly and lost 3-2. However, we didn't seem to learn from this experience, were generally outplayed for ninety minutes and lucky to only concede one goal. The one curious thing was Gifton Noel-Williams, who had caused them so many problems in the friendly, was on the bench for this game and didn't come on as a sub. Well.... we'll do them at the Vic, won't we?

Bradford at home was a great example of why spending loads of money doesn't always work. The day had started well with WIFC getting a 2-2 draw against the Internet Bantams. We also got our picture taken on the pitch at half time, showing off our medals and shields we had won from the previous season.

Bradford were playing their new strike force of Isiah Rankin and Lee Mills, which cost them somewhere over 2 million pounds I believe. Watford were playing their new strike force of Ngonge and Smart, which cost... erm... about 150,000 pounds.

Okay, to be fair Rankin looked quite good, but if you can't take the chances he had then I'm glad we didn't waste that kind of money on a player.

In many ways, this game was similar to Portsmouth. Bradford seemed more in control in the first half, but as the game developed we came more into it and the goal when it came was not unexpected.

The words of Ig below sum things up quite nicely:

"We'd put together a convincing, engaging spell of play - that Bradford should've been several goals to the good by that point doesn't devalue it. Kennedy's corner was half-cleared, Daley retrieved the ball and fed it wide on the right, Hyde whipped in the most gorgeous cross, Ngonge dived in to head goalwards with enough power for the ball to creep under Walsh's body and over the line."

So there we have it. We had to endure the customary last fifteen minutes of panic but two wins out of two in the league is a good start.

The return leg against Cambridge was next. What was I saying about doing them at the Vic? Well.... we didn't. Again the first forty-five minutes we were pretty crap. It was only for a period of about fifteen minutes after half time that we looked any good. Ngonge got his second goal in two games, and we really should have got a couple more to finish off the tie. But if that had happened it would have been an injustice to Cambridge. In the end, with extra time looking very likely, Yates brought down Benjamin just inside the box and Butler converted the penalty. We got what we deserved over the two legs. Nothing.

I didn't go to the Bristol City game as I was otherwise occupied. But it seems I missed a classic. Two crackers from Johno and a generally excellent display against another team who have spent a fair bit of money. I'm not going to go on about it anymore because I'm that p****d off at missing it.

Also didn't go to Sunderland as I was on a course all week. A reverse of the scoreline from the Bristol game as the Hornets went down 4-1. But apparently we weren't as bad as the scoreline suggests. We even took the lead.

August was completed with us playing at home to Wolves in front of the cameras of Sky TV. Enough said really. As is usual with the television people being there, we lost. We weren't overwhelmed by a superior team as such, just slowly throttled by an efficient, well organised team with better ideas than us. Two goals, thirty seconds each side of half time killed us off. And despite having most of the play in the second half we didn't turn our possesion into chances.

So not a bad start to the season. It's too early to be sure but it looks like we are destined for a mid table finish. The loss of Jason Lee to Chesterfield is a bit of a blow. Whatever you think about Lee, he does give defences problems and provides a constant threat in the air.

I've had worse Augusts.

Best Moments: The opening day win at Portsmouth and getting on the pitch with the WIFC team at home to Bradford.

Worst Moments: The inept performances against Cambridge.

Funniest moment: The own goal at Portsmouth and watching Rupe panic when he thought that someone had nicked his bag with his car stereo in it at Cambridge.