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Into the Groves: Watford Report
By: Tony Butcher
A SUNNY, cloudless afternoon in the Cote du Humber, with around 350 world weary Watfordians, those dedicated followers of fashion, with anoraks zipped right up tight in the Osmond Stand.
Grimsby Town 1 Watford 0
15 Mar 2003, Nationwide League Division 1
A cold, blustery wind blew through those souls in the Pontoon who had bothered to turn up, for many a vacant seat was evident throughout Blundell Park, great chunks of plastic sparkling in the sunlight. The Mighty Mariner re-appeared, leaning on a big bass drum, leading the singing. Thatâ€™s leading a chorus of two teenagers, for the mood was relaxed but disengaged, no-one expected ultimate survival (surely ITVâ€™s new game show for chefs and former members of the Rubettes).
The players warmed up as usual, the usual announcements were made, the usual sandwiches were eaten, the usual result then? Town lined up in the now usual 4-5-1 formation, as shown. Nothing new to say there then, everyone played where youâ€™d expect them, except the middle five was structured slightly differently, with Campbell and Oster standing further upfield, in other words closer to Mansaram. Watford were just Watford; bright yellow shirts, some big blokes, some little blokes and some rather old fashioned footballersâ€™ names in the squad. Sam Swonnell, Jack and Tommy Smith, and my own favourite, Elliott Godfrey, who sounds as though he should be a gentlemanâ€™s outfitter, or perhaps a cad with moustache and a racy little motor car that he takes for jaunts and japes in the country.
Whilst such notions were pondered, and the crowd swapped stories of great derring-do on how they avoided all the road works to get there, the game started, with Watford attacking the Pontoon (though not literally, that would have resulted in a FA enquiry). Town started very slowly, very hapharzardly, like strangers on a train.
Frankly Town were a mess for the first 20 minutes, defensively inept and elsewhere barely visible. Watford swarmed through gaps, even forgetting to lump it down the channels a few times.
They were encouraged by all that jazz to play something recognizably akin to football. After about 5 minutes of falling over, shinning and ankling the ball directly to the yellow perils, Town should have conceded a goal. A simple thing really, Watford broke quickly down the centre left, and pinged a diagonal cross into the heart of the penalty area from about 30 yards out. Helguson drifted towards the far post, about 12 yards out, and nodded the ball back across the face of goal. Two Town defenders, including the great untouchable, Monsieur Santos, sauntered across to Helguson and made a very feeble challenge and a massive, some say ginormous, hole appeared in the Town defence between Santos and McDermott who, of course, had been out there hassling the crosser. Into this Great Sandy Desert ran a Watford Midfielder, Mahon, who allowed the ball to bounce and, about eight yards out, simply froze as Coyne walked forward with the insouciant air of a man about to meet his new neighbours. Confident nonchalance mixed with trepidation. Mahon eventually swung a boot at the ball and Coyne blocked, clutching the rebound as the shaven headed hoofer held his head and wailed, as the Pontoon hailed.
A couple of minutes later, Town had a shot - Pouton, from outside the penalty box, deflected, not interesting, even to Poutonâ€™s dog. Watford simply broke forward, forcing much backtracking from those nominally classed as Town players, with Helguson eventually thwacking a thumping great drive from about 25 yards out, right in the centre. The ball dipped a couple of inches over the bar, though Coyne was underneath the flight path. Fordâ€™s performance deteriorated from poor to atrocious, with Santos having to use his personality a couple of times to avoid catastrophe. Ford seemed to be on Planet Zog, or maybe even one of its satellites, for he ambled about, miss-kicking, passing directly to Watford, forgetting to mark, being two seconds behind in everything he did. Hey, lifeâ€™s a breeze man, he had a real space cadet glow about him in the first half, a clip round the ear and a bucket of cold water was needed urgently. He wasnâ€™t the only one either, Groves seemed incapable of passing to anyone wearing the same kind of clothing, Oster pranced and preened like a ninny, fluttering like a mayfly on the wing, wasting the ball every time with several tricks too many. He was easily brushed off the ball and wasnâ€™t displaying any determination. Even Santos was decidedly ropey, hanging back and being slow to run upfield, he often allowed Watford players to remain onside as the other three defenders ran out. Get the drift?
Here we are again, quarter of an hour gone and another gold plated, money back guaranteed once in a life time offer. Youâ€™d be mad not to buy it! Santos lost the ball whilst trying to show off 35 yards out on the right and Watford flipped the ball over to their left. Smith drifted around, dribble forward unchallenged as a Town player backed off and off and off. I canâ€™t remember who, but as it was on the Town left local police have indicated they are interested in speaking to a local character aged 30, 5 foot 11 inches tall and weighing between 13 stone and a lot more, depending on which day of the week it is. Unlike serial killers, he doesnâ€™t keep himself to himself. I digress. Smith looked up and floated an excellent flat cross to the far post. The ball drifted over McDermott, who stumbled as he jumped and turned, leaving Helguson alone, seven yards out, just wide of the post. Helguson brought the ball down and, in one flowing movement, sliced the ball wide and over, his backside hitting the turf 3.2 seconds after the ball was caught by a delighted youngster in row G of the Pontoon. You can relax now, for without giving away the plot (it wasnâ€™t all a dream, when you walked out of the shower Alan Buckley was not still manager, and Tony Rees has shaved off his moustache that is oh-so fashionable in downtown Baghdad) that was a good as it got for our fine feathered friends from the South in the first half. Oh sure, they broke away dangerously, the Town defence flapped a lot, but no actual factual chances. A couple of pinball moments inside the Town area, with shots careering off accidentally placed boots and bottoms, crash bang wallop football, the old percentages game, but the ball often ended up hitting the biggest chunk on the pitch, Santos. Helguson had a header at one point which didnâ€™t even trouble the ball boys, Cox advanced and hit a tremendously rubbish shot, which dribbled slowly across the grass and eight yards wide. That was fantastic, no truly, we enjoyed it a lot, especially those who remembered he used to play for Scunthorpe United, a local team with aspirations.
Town, ah, Town, they improved, but that is not particularly praising them, for the first 20 minutes had been on a par with recent home performances. Fortunately, the opposition were a bit la-di-da Gunner Graham; more interested in playing nice tunes on their piano than being a ruthless killing machine, and thank goodness for that. Slowly, slowly the wormed turned, with, count them, one, two, three, four, yes four passes were strung together before someone fell over, or passed it out of play. Well, Town were improving! Town did have shots, and they started to get closer and closer to goal, though they were all from outside the box. Campbell stepped inside after Mansaram twisted and turned his way down the touchline and cut back a pass, and smacked a shot straight to Chamberlain. A Pouton shot, and then one from Groves with his left foot. Thatâ€™s right, his left foot, which was a quite powerful blockbuster which went straight to the goalkeeper. Minutes ticked by and Town kept the ball, but just didnâ€™t get inside the Watford penalty area. Oster fizzled out on the edge of the area, running into the third man, trying a shimmy too far, Mansaram ran around a lot, but his most effective work was down the flanks, resulting in a couple of corners. Hughes swept a firm left footed drive towards the centre left of the goal, but again Chamberlain was perfectly placed. A little later Hughes sliced another shot from the edge of the area comfortably wide of the top left hand corner. Ooh, the tide was turning, the ball was more often up at the Osmond End, which acted as a perfect springboard for counter attacks. But Watford wasted them with over-elaboration, or as one Pontoonite shouted in an homage to Barry Davies "over-indulgent nonsense!". Watford had pretensions, often trying to pass to each other, which isnâ€™t exactly playing to their strengths, is it. Perhaps all this FA Cup success has gone to their heads?
With about 5 minutes left, Oster was brought down on the centre left of the Watford penalty area. Watford fluffed around building a wall, and Barnard took advantage to clip the ball in whilst no-one was looking, but the referee was wise to the cheeky chappie and order him to take it again. Barnard? Barnard, where did he come form? Germany, actually, but in the context of this association football match, he came on after 32 minutes or so, replacing Pouton who was injured when doing a sliding hooking challenge in front of the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus stand. The Jake La Motta of Grimsby received a couple of minutes of treatment on his knee, went off, came back on and crumpled during his next challenge. We wonâ€™t see the likes of him again for many a month. Campbell took up Poutonâ€™s central midfield role and Barnard played out wide, as Galliâ€™s protector. Still waiting for the free kick? So were we. Eventually, Barnard curled the ball over and around the wall, but also over and around the top right hand corner of the goal. We "Ooed", but it was never going in. The half ended with Town in the territorial ascendancy, and Watford content to cause minor mayhem on counter-attacks.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Watford 0
First half over, and a joy it was...for it to have ended. Very poor quality, Town started dreadfully and there was absolutely no cohesion whatsoever in the Town play. There was very little space, for Watford, much to the disgust of the Town support, were trying. That just isnâ€™t their role. Most of the play seemed to flow and be controlled by the Watford number 8, Hyde, who seemed out of place and out of time. He looked "any good", whilst no-one else did. Coyneâ€™s kicking was down to its usual standard, which didnâ€™t help the game, and 0-0 at half time was generally greeted as an achievement.
Things can only get better. How often have we though that?
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Itâ€™s in here somewhere, I saw it when I put my trousers on".
The report continues in the second half.
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