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FA Carling Premiership, 4/12/99
Five goals dull the pain
By Bruce Reed

Much has been written in the BSaD pages about the inadequacy of Selhurst Park as a Premiership venue...or, for that matter, a venue in any division. It is cramped, lacks an atmosphere and the facilities are at best primitive. Nevertheless, due to the lacklustre spinelessness that characterises the machinations of Merton District council, it seems we are, at least for the moment, stuck there. Saturday's clash - the first ever League clash between these two sides at Selhurst - was not made any more appealing by the freezing winds and incessant rain. Viewing conditions were grim.

The first ten minutes saw Watford have marginally the better of the game. In midfield Andersen made his now habitual slow start, misplacing passes with unerring skill. Up front for the Hornets, Gravelaine looked fairly lively and gave Hreidarsson some uncomfortable moments. It was then that the Hornets rearguard, for whatever reason, decided to make a game of it, by singularly failing to challenge Hartson, whose flick went out to Gayle. His optimistic cross-cum-shot was blocked but from the resulting corner Kimble's delivery was met by Earle, whose flick was diverted by Hartson beyond Chamberlain. Although it was cleared off the line, Cort rifled in the follow-up. 1-0.

It must be said that even at this stage it was obvious the Hornets rearguard would have to compete better in the aerial exchanges, and if they did not, then Chamberlain would be in for a long afternoon - so it proved. Nonetheless, Watford still made chances, two of which fell to Ngonge, but his initial headed opportunity saw the kind of finish usually only supplied by Wimbledon's resident 'Goal Machine' Leaburn, whilst his failure to punish Sullivan's error verged on the criminal.

At the other end, headers over by Hartson and Cort were as much as we could muster. However, the crucial second goal came just at the right time. Another Kimble corner was flicked on by Cort, and bundled over the line by skipper Earle, to give a two goal cushion.

Ian Grant has written that Wimbledon had no reason to be proud of our performance, an opinion shared by manager Egil Olsen who ripped into the team. In truth, both are right. It certainly was nowhere near the standard of the game against Leeds, but if the Dons were poor, the best that can be said of Watford is that they failed to take advantage of it.

The second half began, and the dangerous Wooter hit a low shot that skimmed just beyond the post. It looked like Watford might be about to summon up a fightback, but then the yellow jerseys just seemed to lose all heart, and the capitulation that followed was a gruesome spectacle. Essentially, every time the ball crossed the halfway line for the next half hour you thought Wimbledon might well score - which they did on three occasions. The first was appalling defence which allowed an unmarked Hartson time to chest the ball down and slot it past Chamberlain. This was followed by a spectacular run by Euell, who turned Williams and slipped it round the goalkeeper. Hornets fans' misery was complete when an Andresen cross was knocked back by Hartson into the path of Gayle whose twenty-five yard volley put the icing on a rare Wimbledon victory.

It gives me little pleasure to write this. There are eighteen other teams in the Premiership who I would have rather were on the end of this beating - but the truth is Watford were dreadful, a team obviously short on confidence and one which lost the will to fight, especially at the back. This is a mistake you can ill afford to make against any side but against Wimbledon you will suffer badly for throwing in the towel. Whatever happens, I wish Watford all the best for the remainder of the season, and if it's any consolation (which I doubt it is) remember two months ago Wimbledon were annihilated 5-1 at Sheffield Wednesday, as weak a performance as I have ever seen from the Dons. We bounced back from that, and let every true football fan hope that a GT-inspired Watford can do the same.