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Le Massif Central: Watford Report
By: Tony Butcher
AH, autumn, the season of misses and mellow fruitlessness, brought initial murk, but slowly turned into a bright, sunny, clear, even temperate afternoon in the Hertfordshire Bowl. Around 300 or so Town fans sat behind the goal to the left as the blue clad Town players warmed up in the valley below.
Watford 2 Grimsby Town 0
12 Oct 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
The pre-match entertainment was just a slightly more sophisticated version of what is trundled out at Blundell Park. Why did they let that Watford fan in a new leather jacket (did his ma say it cost him a packet?) onto the pitch to croon woefully. "I canâ€™t keep my eyes offa yoooooooooo". Yes we can, and our ears too.
Town lined up in the same formation, and personnel, as against Ipswich; in other words the usual 4-4-2, as shown Nothing more to add, they played where youâ€™d expect them to and none of them did a karaoke before the game.
Town kicked off away from us, lining up as if to play to the left, but tricking Watford completely, making utter fools of them, by kicking the ball out of play on the other side. Ha, a huge psychological blow struck within three seconds. The first couple of minutes werenâ€™t tremendous, with Watford playing as they usually do, rather frenetically at times, with an emphasis upon pace and getting it forward. Town, well, Town didnâ€™t contribute much to road safety at the start. Raven was roasted and toasted by the superzippy, supertricky Webber, who surged down the centre, switching the ball between right and left boot, swaying, swooshing, and oozing past the retreating Raven. Only a fantastic tackle by Santos, about 15 yards out, avoided catastrophe. But his tackle only sent the ball out to their right wing, where a man in yellow crossed to the far post for lanky Foley to rise above Ford on the corner of the 6 yard box and head very far over the bar.
Another worrying turn and surge by Webber a couple of minutes later was desperately cleared by several Town players mugging him on the edge of the penalty area. And then he was off, Raven that is. After about five minutes he looked up, saw Groves and Rodger beckoning, and Coldicott ran on to replace him.
Santos went back to centre half with Coldicott reunited with Magog Pouton in the centre of midfield. Watford only threatened through Webber, with his spins, surges, and sways. Town started to pass beautifully, though initially nothing tangible came of these aesthetically pleasing moments. We have to wait a while for the next effort on goal, which was a corner from Watford, on Townâ€™s left, hit to the centre of the penalty area, about 12 yards out. Cox leant over a Town defender and headed firmly over Coyne and a foot over the bar. It was already clear that Watfordâ€™s major moments would come from set pieces. Neilson took most of their throw ins quickly, mostly long into space for Webber to run on to, and they sent the big men up for corners and free kicks. It was also noticeable that the Watford supporters only seemed to get interested when the ball went out of play.
And after about 12/13 minutes we saw why. The ball was played down the Town right, over and between Ward and Santos, about 30 yards out. Santos held back, raised his hand and waited for the linesman to raise the red and yellow lantern. Naaah, didnâ€™t bother. Webber scampered away, towards goal, Santos sprinted back and tackled Webber about eight yards wide of goal and just a couple of yards from the bye-line. The ball seemed to ricochet off Santosâ€™ huge right boot back onto Webber and out, but a corner was given. So just the two bones of contention there then. Was it offside? Was it a corner? Weâ€™d only moan if they scored though. They did, and so did we. The corner, from their left, was curled low in to the near post and a huge bundle of players all rose up. The ball skidded off someoneâ€™s head and into the six yard box. Pouton (I think) leant back and, from about three yards out, tried to head away, but merely sent the ball back across goal and out to the Town right. FOLEY slid forward and, from about eight yards out near the corner of the six yard box, drove the ball under Coyne. A typical Watford goal, no beauty, no creativity, just picking up the chip scraps and voraciously feasting.
Did Town buckle and bend? No. The rest of the game was dominated by Town, with Watford relying upon set pieces and breakaways for their thrills. Slowly, inexorably, Town started to grind, firstly just keeping possession, then starting to attack. Townâ€™s first effort on goal, at about 3:17, was a Santos tackle 40 yards out, which sent the ball screaming across the face of the goal, with Chamberlain helpless. Well, to be honest , he block tackled and the ball faded into a gentle slice which went 10 yards wide. But at least it was nearer than Watfordâ€™s only effort from open play in the first half, which skewed 16 yards wide. So poor I canâ€™t remember anything about it, the only memory is of the ball rolling, squirming itself with embarrassment.
If the firm foundation for Town was the solidity of Ford and Santos (whose two footed tackles are truly terrifying in their intensity), the ornamental garden with spiky bushes was Kabba, who terrified the Watford defenders with his pace and power. Just after Santosâ€™ tackle-shot a bit of Town passing amongst the back four was suddenly turned into an attack by Ward racing forward and side footing a perfectly weighted volley pass to Kabba. Muscleman had his back to goal, about 20 yards out on the centre right, but turned in one movement and dragged a left foot shot five yards wide of Chamberlainâ€™s left hand post. It wasnâ€™t close, but it was the indicator that the tide was turning. Pouton started to infiltrate the spaces between the Watford midfield and defence, surging, surging, surging, with one such movement ending with him whacking a shot against the Big Bald Blokeâ€™s backside (Bloke being their number 6, Dyche).
Pouton set up an opportunity for Kabba to frighten the locals after about half an hour. Town broke up a half hearted passing move by Watford (ie they tried to pass it once) and played some lovely one-twos down the centre and right. Pouton spun past a couple of challenges and curled a pass with the outside of his right boot between two defenders and into the space behind the right back. Kabba hit warp factor 7 captain, possibly reaching the ball via a worm hole near the allotments. Outside and wide of the area, he cut back inside, attracting defenders like pork to a pie. When he had gathered three suitors, after rejecting the overtures of a fourth, he suddenly whipped in a smashing right foot shot from the centre of the area, 20 yards out. The ball flew a foot or so over the bar, but easily enough to make those few, those unhappy few, cry havoc for Kabba and St Georges Santos. Five minutes later Kabba did it again, this time cutting in from the left hand side to whack an even better left foot shot from 20 yards which went inches over the bar.
Watford werenâ€™t entirely moribund, they had breaks, which foundered on Ford and the supreme Santos, who used boot and head as a weapon of mass destruction. When Georges tackles, you know youâ€™ve been tangoed. But they did almost score again, with about 10 minutes left, when they were given a free kick 20 yards out near the left hand corner of the penalty area. Ardley hit a low curling cross shot, which evaded all the flailing boots and forced Coyne to parry to his right. The ball squirmed out and rolled into a large space from which humanity was absent. Santos took one stride, one look and played a short pass across the goal towards Coldicott standing six yards out and eight yards wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Panic over, ball cleared, no other moments that caused too much heartache or concern. Webber kept zipping around, but the Town defence had worked out how to play him. You see, he rarely looks up, so simply having enough players standing around him will normally do the trick. He may dribble past three, but probably not the fourth.
The only other near miss in the first half happened towards the end. A town corner from the left was plopped up high and mighty towards the far post, about a dozen yards out. Santos rose, headed vertically and the Watford player took one look at the determined man mountain and stepped back. Santos did a flying Kung-Fu right footed volley which looped across the face of the goal and missed Kabba and the post by a short distance. Santos Kung-Fu fighting, thatâ€™s more than a little bit frightening.
I havenâ€™t mentioned the referee at all yet. I will, oh yes, I will. His first half was not fantastic, making several small decisions which were beyond baffling, but neutral in their effect. He yinged us and yanged them. Giving Town a free kick when a Watford player cynically headed Poutonâ€™s boot was odd, not booking Big Bald Bloke for wrestling Kabba to the ground as the Kabbameister knocked the ball past him to have a fleeting free run on goal was annoying. Even more so as Big Bald Bloke stood over the ball to stop a quick free kick and argued. But Iâ€™ll leave matters there for the time being.
Just one minute was added at the end of the half, and one minute was played. The Town fans, despite the scoreline, stood and applauded this Heath Robinson Town, for they had played very well. A cohesive unit, some passion, strength and desire. And no little skill either. The balance of play was way towards Town and Watford were only any kind of threat at set pieces. And not much of one at that.
Half time: Watford 1 Grimsby Town 0
Now half time, two things. They had a kiddiesâ€™ penalty shoot-out in the goal in front of the Town fans. The team that won had two players who looked like ringers, being several inches and years older than the 12 year olds they were supposed to be. One was probably the games teacher in disguise. But who cares about that? The fascinating aspect of this event was the referee, who looked like those olde time refs that lingered on into the 1970. We havenâ€™t seen a ref like this since Trelford Mills roamed the earth. An extravagant comb-over, huge, huge belly, tight, tight shorts. We decided at half time that weâ€™d have much preferred him to the "Pro". Even though he seemed unable to control the penalty shoot out. Who won? It might have been the ones who scored more goals. Maybe.
And the Mascot has lost its sting, no wonder it did so well in the Mascot sprintathon, all excess weight discarded and aerodynamically inefficient stuff like wings jettisoned. It was just a man in a furry head
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Is Santos a bouncer or a footballer?".
The report continues in the second half.
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