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Ashes To Ashes - 2nd Half
By: Tony Butcher
NO CHANGES were made by either team at half time. Town kicked off and the ball was played out wide and eventually lost somewhere in midfield, with Watford gaining possession near the touch-line on Town's left, about 35 yards out.
Watford 2 Grimsby Town 0
10 Feb 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
The ball was knocked into a gap between Groves and Gallimore with Noel-Williams racing forward. The linesman put his flag up. The Town players stopped, turned their backs and walked up field. The Watford players did the same. The Town supporters looked up, noted the flag, and continued with their conversations, reading the programme, looking at the scenery and eating their sandwiches. A couple of seconds later a half hearted roar rose from the far end as Noel-Williams chipped the ball into the empty net, with Coyne stood calmly next to him.
What are they cheering for? The linesman had flagged ages ago for offside. A couple of Town fans stood up and urged the referee to book Noel-Williams for kicking the ball away (especially as he'd stopped playing, then turned round to cheekily chip it in). Then the Town players went absolutely berserk. The referee had allowed the "goal". What goal? After a few seconds he trotted over to the linesman, then trotted back to the half way line, signalling for Town to restart the game from the centre circle. More fury from the Town players, with Burnett, Raven and Coyne looking like they were about to assault the green madmen. The Town supporters was so stunned they could hardly make a sound. Jaws dropped, eyes stared wildly towards the pitch. You could say we were a little surprised by the referee's decision.
So that was that then, game over, season over. The nails were hammered in by last week's referee, this one decided to conduct a service over the grave and throw the first handfuls of dirt onto the coffin. Don't these people realise we don't need assistance. I half expected the Town players to pick the ball up and walk off, they looked that angry. It was a staggering decision, as no-one on the pitch had continued playing, they'd all seen the flag go up. Sound's like interfering with play to me. Oh, I forgot, it's Grimsby - no supporters, no money, who cares about them, eh? And now, literally, no hope.
The next 4 or 5 minutes had a simmering tension about them, which exploded when Gallimore (who was clearly furious and had lost his composure, we could see that from 100 yards away) whacked Pennant from behind, on the touch-line, about 35 yards from goal. There then followed a kick, a push, a throat grab, a snarl, a gnarl, a slap, but no tickle. Gallimore and Pennant went head to head, with Gallimore seemingly turning purple with rage. From Corporal Jones to the Purple People Eater in two seasons. As the terrible twosome fought, the other players came flying in, with one of the Watford players giving Gallimore a little tap on the cheeks. There were two or three minutes of mayhem, which resulted in a red card for Pennant (cue standing ovation from the Watford supporters) and then for Gallimore (cue standing ovation from the Town supporters). As he stomped off Gallimore ripped off his shirt and commented freely upon the course of events. Perhaps a little too freely, but nothing that the Town supporters weren't saying either. Pennant, eh? typical Arsenal, but of course, Arsene Wenger will claim he didn't see the incident.
After this the game was quite loose, with many gaps, and, oddly, Town were much more of a threat. A little tactical shuffle saw Willems drop back to left back, with a three man midfield. Burnett had clearly been instructed to support the front two as much as possible, as he was often the most forward player, awaiting the through ball that never came. The minutes immediately following the sendings off were predominantly Town, though it wasn't until about the 55th minute that a chance was created, or, to be more accurate, accidentally occurred. Pouton took a free kick out on the Town right, about 4 or 5 yards wide of the penalty area and 15 or 16 yards from the bye-line. It was half cleared to Willems, about 35 yards out in an inside leftish position. As usual he saw glory, he saw a wonderstrike into the top left hand corner of the goal, he saw his miss-hit shot deflect off Noel-Williams on the edge of the area and balloon out to the right. Jevons ran forward, unmarked, about 12 yards wide and a dozen yards to right of the post. He too saw glory, he saw echoes of a distant time billowing across his mind. He saw Anfield, he saw the top left hand corner of the goal, he saw his volley go 5 or 6 yards wide and high. He heard the Town fans chuntering and mumbling.
Around five minutes later Watford nearly got a flukey third. They broke away down the Town right, with Glass surging past McDermott and crossing low to the near post. The ball skimmed off a forward's head and carried on into the centre of the goalmouth, about six or seven yards out. Raven leant back, as he ran back towards goal, and managed to head straight at Coyne's feet. Now that sir was almost a comedy own goal. The game was becoming a real end-to-ender, with the next effort on goal being a shot from Glass, centrally placed about 20 yards out, where he curled a left foot shot a couple of yards wide of Coyne's right hand post. Town simply went up the other end and attacked down the Watford left, which seemed to be a perceived weakness, as Town continually probed and prodded there. Or perhaps it was merely recognition that our left side is useless (and was undermanned). Pouton played a superb 25 yard pass from the centre out to the touch-line for McDermott, who screeched down the wing and crossed into the centre of the goal, about 8 yards out. Boulding rose, unmarked, and headed really weakly down and across goal towards the 'keeper's right hand post. Chamberlain walked across goal and picked the ball up, as if collecting a discarded frisbee from his hedge.
And still Town attacked. A throw-in on the Town left, about 25 yards out was lobbed in (by Willems, I think) towards the centre of the penalty area. It was half cleared to Noel-Williams, just outside the penalty area just to the right of centre. He played a superbly weighted cushion volley into space behind his full back. Willems accepted the formal invitation and lashed in a low, underhit, shot straight at Chamberlain, from wide of the goal, and about 15 yards out. A minute later Town very nearly scored. Which for us is the same as a goal, right? Pouton, again, played a great pass from the centre of the pitch over the defence towards Boulding, who scampered down the right and into the penalty area. When close to the bye-line he cut back on to his left foot and hit a firm, low shot across Chamberlain, who parried the ball away to his right as Jevons slid in.
Watford counter attacked and should have scored. One of their midfielders received a pass around the centre circle, with a thousand acres of uninhabited brown mud surrounding him. He looked up and curled a long pass over the Town defence for Noel-Williams to sprint onto, slightly to the right of centre. As he bore down on the penalty area, made some elementary geometric calculations and chose which bit of netting to rip with a pile driving thwack, Groves raced back and slid towards him. The mere presence of Town's player-coach-manager-busdriver-fengshui-consultant was enough to put Noel-Williams off, and the shot zoomed 4 yards wide of Coyne's right hand post.
A bit of calmness descended upon Vicarage Road for 4 or 5 minutes, with another period of unremarkable nibblings in midfield. Then Town had another half chance, when Willems floated in a cross from a deep position on the Town left. Boulding rose, again unmarked and about 6 or 7 yards out just to the right of centre, and glanced a header well wide. Mmmm, there's still 20 minutes left. "Come on lads, we can still do this". Don't be daft. Watford brought on some substitutes (including Allan Neilsen. Who brought forth a chant of "there's only two Allan Neilsen's" from some Town supporters. Thankfully only one was on the pitch), altered their formation and tactics and spent the last 20 minutes missing chances. They had finally realised that Town only had one player on the left, and as this was Willems, it was not an insurmountable barrier to success. With 15 minute left Neilsen cut inside from the Watford right and, from 20 yards hit a low shot which Coyne saved well, down to his right. A couple of minutes later Glass surged down their left and cut the ball back to Noel-Williams on the edge of the area. Noel- Williams side stepped Groves and hit a stretching, lunging, raking right foot shot just past Coyne's right had post, the ball rippling along the side netting, which was enough to excite the dormant, dozing, but delighted Hertfordshire folk.
With about 10 or so minutes to go Jevons hit a powder-puff free kick straight at Chamberlain, Campbell was replaced by Butterfield and McDermott was frustrated when the linesman flagged for offside when he wasn't, but a couple of Town players 20 yards away were (and they were retreating). Ah, such small things can reveal a greater truth. A few minutes later Pouton was replaced by Allen and it seemed that Town played a fluid 3-3-3 formation, also known as "everyone go forward and some of you please run back when we lose it". As the minutes ticked away less and less Town players ran back when Town lost possession. The game was, what pundits like to call, "stretched".
And this meant chance upon chance for Watford. Raven missed a through ball, which sent Smith haring down the centre right, alone, with just Coyne to beat. Coyne advanced and forced him wide. They ended up with a corner as McDermott, Raven and Groves managed smother him down near the bye-line. The corner was half cleared to a Watford player, 20 yards out in the centre. He immediately switched the ball back to Hyde, who curled in an excellent cross to the near post. Smith swung in front of his marker and steered the ball just over the bar from 5 or 6 yards out. Neilsen again cut in from their right and hit a Poutonesque shot 17 yards wide of Coyne's right hand post. Watford's next attack was set up by Butterfield, who clipped a corner straight to a Watford player at their near post. They raced up the other end and only McDermott's harrying stopped them bearing down on Coyne.
And then Town really, really, really should have scored. Town were awarded a free kick about 20 yards out, on the centre right. As Watford players relaxed, Butterfield took the free kick quickly, knocking the ball behind the defence into a huge space behind their left back. Jevons was thus alone, and about 10 yards wide of goal. He waited for support then rolled the ball across the face of goal towards Boulding, who missed. The ball continued slowly across the face of goal and Allen ran up and tried to knock the ball back, but a defender blocked. In the four minutes of added time Raven had a free header which he headed straight down onto the ground taking all the pace off the ball, and Smith, sent free by Hyde, managed to slam a shot just over the angle of Coyne's left hand post and bar from a dozen yards out.
Another day, another defeat. Another referee to complain about. Town were a little fortunate to get away with a 2-0 defeat in the end, as Watford had so many excellent chances as the game drifted towards it's inevitable conclusion. But Town had numerous opportunities too, which is something that doesn't happen often. The refereeing didn't help, but, ultimately, that's just an excuse. The league table is not inaccurate - we're twice as good as Stockport. That's all.
Individually the centre backs and McDermott played well, and the central midfielders were ok. Willems was better in the second half, but, then again, there was nothing to compare his second half performance too. He was constantly being shouted at by his team mates in the first half - they seem to have tired of his diffidence, as have the crowd. Campbell was totally invisible, save for his first half dribble. Boulding proved, yet again, what a fine substitute he is. The crowd amused themselves with Fan-cam on Butterfield - it took him 11 minutes to touch the ball. Some claimed he was deliberately avoiding the fluorescent round object.
The season's over, time to think of Wycombe rather than Wolves.
Nicko's Man of the Match
Raven, Paul. One missed header only, competed well with bulky, brawny strikers who had pace. He's brave, whole hearted and deserves recognition.
Mr J Brandwood. The first 30 odd minutes saw him be fair and firm. Doubts crept in, then were confirmed by his crass stubbornness over the second goal. Thirty seconds into the second half, it effectively killed what minuscule hopes Town had of retrieving some points. The sendings off directly followed from that "decision". Play to the whistle you cynics say? Easy to say, but watch the pictures - everybody stopped. He simply got a very big decision wrong, refusing to apply logic. He gets 3.3, for he got a third of the game right.
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