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Match Report: Watford 1-1 Leeds United (A Watford Fan's Perspective)

Sunday 11th December 2011
A Tale of Two Pens (or should that be a Paen, or perhaps a Pain?)

It was the best of pens, it was the worst of pens.  Those last five minutes not only changed the match, but also the headline to this article, which hitherto had been (in my mind) rather less snappily titled: Premiership Loanees Make the Difference (from the lesser known, not to say non-existent, Dickens novel).

But the dénouement is, of course, best left to the end.  First, we must set the scene and provide the context.

17th placed poor little Watford, hovering an uncomfortable 4 points above the Championship drop zone welcomed mighty Leeds United, 5th in league and occupying one of the play-off slots to glorious Vicarage Road.

For anyone not familiar with the great Vicarage Road stadium, it is the historic home of Watford FC, crumbling amidst the terraced houses, cemeteries and defunct pubs of downtown Watford.  Fans are accommodated in 3 stands, the fourth stand being unfit for human (even football fans') habitation but Watford don't have the funds to tear down the asbestos ridden monstrosity.  Some say that the open fourth side allows all atmosphere to escape from the ground, although in truth Watford fans do not make much noise anyway; we are a community and family club, happy to admire Harry the Hornet's frenzied tomfoolery and cede singing rights to the opposing fans (whom we accommodate next to our most tender youthful Hornets in the Family Stand, so that away fans are not intimidated, while Watford youngsters can gain an education in fruity language and play – when Milwall are the visitors -  Catch the Coin).  Occasionally we chirrup “Yellow Army” tunelessly; even more infrequently does the chorus “1-0 to the Golden Boys” resound around the ground, I have found.

From the Watford perspective, this season was always destined to be a struggle.  Perennial relegation favourites, this season the pundits and the bookies might just be proven correct.  Reluctant owner, Lord Ashcroft, had scoured the globe for a successor, a search which brought forth only a Stanmore, London-based recently discharged bankrupt, who had also changed his surname, as Watford's saviour.  Mr Bassini has promised great things (a new video screen, a re-opened Red Lion Public house, further delays to the overdue pitch re-laying) but also has to fund on-going losses and assume the burden of debt owed largely to former owners.  It was no surprise that out went (for £££) star players like top-scorer, Danny Graham, mercurial Will Buckley, manager Malky Mackay and (for sadly zero £) Don Cowie.  Also departed were most of back room staff (thanks, Malky), the club CEO, other executive stalwarts.  In came a rookie manager steeped in the Watford tradition who set about re-building the squad on a limited budget.  Watford had to scour for cast-offs and Scotsmen, ideally with interesting names or out of favour or unfit (sometimes all three!), so we welcomed the likes of Prince Buaben (the only Ghanaian in Dundee), Chris Iwelumo, Mark Yeates, David Mirfin, Jonathan Hogg, Craig Forsyth, Joe Garner, Carl Dickenson, Tom James (signed from Stratford Town – you'll have to Google them!) as well as exotic loanees such as Andi Weimann (the only professional Austrian footballer playing in the Midlands).

Unsurprisingly, it took Sean Dyche some time to meld this lot into a Watford team.  Unsurprisingly, it took the Watford faithful some time to warm to these newcomers, too.

When one is down, life has a habit of kicking you.  Some of the new signings settled, while others didn't.  It may be some time before we see Messrs Mirfin, Garner and Forsyth grace the hallowed turf at Vicarage Road again (we may never see Mr James).  Annoyingly, Herr Weimann was recalled to Aston Villa using their 24 hour recall option.  Inspired loan signing, Michael Kightly, arrived from Wolves in his stead, started brightly, then immediately broke down to miss the whole of the matches of his one month loan (the loan has since been extended for a further month). Then, our centre half talisman, Martin (Tiny) Taylor, suffered a freak shoulder injury.  To much criticism, Dyche again shuffled his sparse scrabble letters and came up with Nyron Nosworthy, rusty from Sunderland.

In some of early games, Watford played truly atrocious football.  Then, playing slightly better, they went on a run of four straight defeats.  However, slowly but surely, The Journeymen, as they are known, began to gel.  But could they cope with the mighty Leeds United?  A luminary, known only by his twitter avatar, PeteOrn, predicted a 0-4 defeat.  Others thought a point would be a good outcome.  Watford supporters have limited expectations.

It's not all doom and gloom.  Nosworthy, once rusty, has proven trusty. Skipper Eustace picked up an injury to allow the Prince to accede to the midfield throne.  Marvellous Marvin Sordell has developed into an England U-21 striker of Premier League potential.  Jonathan Hogg has proved to be the buy of the season.  Mariappa has never been happier.  Fans' favourite Lloyd Doyley also picked up an injury, permitting Sean Dyche to play young Lee Hodson and so offer Watford the prospect of attacking full back play from both sides and the prospect of a right back's goal more than once every 10 years.

Your correspondent was confident that The Journeymen could again be competitive, might even score and was only worried about Watford's long standing tendency to “throw it away” in the dying minutes of the match. The previous home game against Bristol City demonstrated that even a two goal lead can be insufficient to ensure 3 points for the Golden Boys, and that even if the opposition fail to pose an attacking threat, Watford can still concede from something as bizarre as a goal keeper's air shot completely missing a goalbound back pass.  Let us not even mention the possibility of a ghost goal.

The sides kicked off in resplendent sunshine for a typical Championship encounter:  hard fought, occasional flashes of skill and inspiration, much perspiration.

Attacking the end populated by the Leeds Army tunelessly chanting “Yorkshire” (do they do this when playing Barnsley and Doncaster, one wonders?) and Watford families, Watford dominated the first 2 minutes.  Dominated in terms of possession, twice needlessly conceded by Yeates' inability to control the ball, that is, rather than posing any particular threat to the Leeds goal.  Thereafter, the game evened out with Lloyd Sam twice going on mazy forward runs which caused some panic in the Watford defence and could have caused danger.

Although we were barely into the 2nd half of the first half, we looked to be heading towards half time with honours even when Dickinson was dispossessed by a Leeds player on their right.  The Leeds attacker headed goalwards determinedly in the most dangerous attack for Leeds when Nosworthy[i] swooped magnificently, emerged with the ball and passed it directly upfield to Kightly on the Watford left wing.  Kightly prefers to play on the right and so tends to “cut in” where possible from the left.  The Leeds defence probably knew this.  However, knowing it and being able to counter a Premier League quality player like Kightly in full flight, are two different things.  Kightly jinxed past two defenders, approached the box and the oncoming Alex McCarthy, and made no mistake in slotting home the ball expertly.  1-0 to the Golden Boys.  “There's only one Gary Speed” responded the Whites' fans.

The conclusion at half time was that Watford had outplayed Leeds, but genuine chances had been relatively few.  The inclusion in the starting line-up of Troy Deeney rather than our concrete cow (as he is affectionately known), Chris Iwelumo, provided a far more mobile target upfront for our midfield punts upfield.

The second half saw a rather different game from what might have been expected (a resurgent Leeds pushing for the equaliser against a nervous Watford).  Perhaps the two substitutions contributed:  Lloyd Sam withdrawn by Leeds and Kightly (muscles cramping a little too tightly) replaced by John Eustace.  For whatever reason, Watford were excellent for most of the 2nd half.  They played with verve and skill, winning most of the 50-50 balls, Hogg appearing everywhere, patiently working chances including a sublime one for Sordell which blasted miles over the bar.  There was dissatisfaction amongst the travelling Whites, frustrated at seeing their team hemmed back in their final third.  True, it wasn't all Watford – a couple of shot opportunities opened up but the strikes missed their mark, and Watford Stopper, Scott Loach, sowed his traditional confusion by failing to come for a high cross that was clearly earmarked for a competent goalkeeper.  Nevertheless, as the final whistle and “time added on” approached, Loach had not had to make a save in anger from a Leeds attack and had only really been troubled by Nosworthy's aggressive back pass in the first half.

Towards the end of the 88th minute, Kisnorbo shoulder charged Sordell in the Leeds penalty area.  From my vantage point in the Vicarage Road end (ie the other side of the ground), it looked like a soft penalty but was the perfect opportunity for Watford to wrap up the game.  It was no real surprise that Sordell tried to place the ball which enabled McCarthy, diving to his right, to push the ball onto the inside of his post from which it rebounded into the penalty area and was hoiked clear.  3 minutes of added time flashed up on the mobile board.

Watford successfully navigated the first two minutes of extra time, which were largely played out by the Leeds corner flag.  Leeds regained possession and quickly played the ball upfield where a chest high cross was played into the Watford box.  Spotting Nyron Nosworthy's raised boot aiming to clear the offending spheroid, Mika Vayrynen bravely attempted to head the boot and so secured another, inevitable penalty.  Scott Loach has never saved a penalty and unlike Sordell, Robert Snotgrass thwacked the ball powerfully into the corner to earn Leeds an undeserved point.  Before me, some Leeds supporters who had wrongfully infiltrated the Home family area squared up aggressively to a Home father, so I grabbed my own children and trudged back to the car park.

It was certainly two points dropped by Watford and a point gained by Leeds.  Watford may lose their loanees and have to sell the likes of Sordell (did his best on Saturday to secure his future at Watford for a bit longer, mind you) and Mariappa but if our Journeymen play anything like this they will pick up points that the season will end with there having been three worse teams in the Championship.  Survival is the only objective this season.  Leeds have loftier expectations, greater resources, more demanding fans:  I appreciate they had a couple of player missing through injury and were playing away from home in the lion's den that is Vicarage Road, but unless there is a marked improvement, or Saturday is a one-off, it is difficult to see them even making the play offs in this competitive division.

As a polite Watford fan, I like to give the final word to the opposition's manager.  "We probably didn't deserve the point if you look at our performance," said Grayson.

[i] It transpires the interception was made by Mariappa, not Nosworthy.  So of course the twist at the end which necessitated the change in headline has proven to be a blessing in disguise for the author, as otherwise the whole article and originally-planned headline would have been wholly misconceived.  Phew.
Marcus Shapiro

Total articles: 3

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