Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
12 October 2002
Watford 2 Grimsby Town 0
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 seen on TV) as the blue-clad Town players warmed up in the valley below.
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 can'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 follows: Coyne, Ward, Ford, Raven, Barnard, Cooke, Santos, Pouton, Campbell, Kabba and Mansaram. The substitutes were Allaway, Coldicott, Robinson, Rowan and Livingstone. Nothing more to add, they played where you'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 weren'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 didn'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 six-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 threatened only 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 Town'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 Watford's major moments would come from set pieces. Nielsen 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 seemed to get interested only when the ball went out of play.
And after about 12 or 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, didn'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 by-line. The ball seemed to ricochet off Santos' 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? We'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 someone'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. Town'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 Watford's only effort from open play in the first half, which skewed 16 yards wide. So poor I can't remember anything about it: the only memory is of the ball rolling, itself squirming 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), then the ornamental garden with spiky bushes was Kabba, who terrified the Watford defenders with his pace and power. Just after Santos' tackle-shot a bit of Town passing among 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 Chamberlain's left post. It wasn'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 Bloke'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 (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 wormhole 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 weren'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 you'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 Coyne's right 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 - that's more than a little bit frightening.
I haven't mentioned the referee at all yet. I will, oh yes, I will. His first half was not fantastic, making several small decisions that were beyond baffling, but neutral in their effect. He yinned us and yanged them. Giving Town a free kick when a Watford player cynically headed Pouton'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 I'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.
Now half time: two things. They had a kiddies' penalty shootout 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 haven't seen a ref like this since Trelford Mills roamed the earth. An extravagant combover; huge, huge belly; tight, tight shorts. We decided at half time that we'd have much preferred him to the ‘pro'. Even though he seemed unable to control the penalty shootout. 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?"
"That beard's an homage to Widdrington."
"How many Weightwatchers' points has this pie got?"
"Do we really need McDermott now?"
"I know Tommy Smith's auntie, so he's bound to score".
No changes were made by either team at half time. Watford kicked off and, to prove their first division credentials, kicked the ball straight out of play, but higher than Town had managed. The first chance of the half came the way of the yellow perils. A ball was played over the top down the Town centre-left. Webber was miles in front of everyone, so from our unique position 150 yards away and at 90 degrees, we knew instantly he was offside. Years of watching Town told us that. Despite the universally held view in our neck of the woods, the linesman didn't wave his magic wand and end our worries. Webber ran on, and on, and on, cutting inside, outside, inside, outside, inside again. Then outside. A combination of Webber's strange tendency to dribble like a dog and Santos' fantastic covering ensured that he was forced wider and wider. Webber did wriggle past Santos, but he was at such a narrow angle that the resulting shot rebounded off some part of the leader of the Marseilles massive and Wales, Wales number 4 flopped upon the ball as it rolled towards the by-line.
I'll make it easy for you, the second half replicated the first. Town had the ball most of the time; Watford threatened on isolated breakaways and at corners. There weren't many moments of high excitement in the first quarter of an hour, with Town looking quite good tippy-tappying the ball in little triangles, but the final pass seemed to elude them (yeah, I know, you know that anyway, it's de rigueur for Town, taken as read).
Pouton took more and more control of the game in the centre, driving himself, and the team, on. He led by example, too, in the moaning stakes. And here's where the referee started to infuriate, rather than mildly annoy. Exhibit number one: a Town breakaway after 15 or 20 minutes. The ball was played up to Kabba near the halfway line on the centre right. He laid the ball back to Campbell (I think) who played a fantastic first-time pass up to Pouton 30 yards from the Watford goal, unmarked, and free, free as a bird. Kabba had been clobbered from behind and was motionless upon the grass. The referee monitored the Town move, looked at Kabba second time, looked at Pouton, saw he had controlled the ball, looked back at Kabba - and blew his whistle, applying the disadvantage rule, of course. The Town players, led by Pouton and Campbell, went mad, and rightly so, for the referee ordered a drop-ball, with Watford kicking the ball back to Coyne. No free kick, no booking, no advantage. Superb defending by Watford's emergency centre back.
Kabba wriggled down the right and, 20 yards out, waggled a shot a yard or so high and wide of Chamberlain's left post. The flow was back with Town and Kabba was a-motoring now. Then, a few moments later. a quite wonderful move from Town, down the right, initially involving Cooke and Ward. The ball was played up to Kabba in the centre, who laid a first-time flick through the Watford defence to the left of the Watford penalty area. Mansaram spun past his marker and, from eight yards out, wide of goal, played a pass back into the centre. Chamberlain was stranded by his post as Kabba ran in. Fortunately for Watford their little right back, Doyley, was fast enough to get across and shin the ball a foot wide of Chamberlain's left post. Fortunate for Watford that their defender was no Doyley Carthorse, otherwise Town would have had a richly deserved equaliser.
Watford attack! Nothing happened.
Town continued to press forward. The passing and movement were sublime at times, starting from the back. When Coyne eventually stopped fly-kicking on to Big Bald Bloke's head, or directly out of play without passing GO, that is. Ward and Barnard started to push up, and Town started to spread play most impressively. With about 20 or so minutes left Mansaram was replaced by Livvo, just to add extra pace. Mansaram is an odd cove: he doesn't do that much, but occasionally he links fantastically with Kabba to frighten the life out of the opposition. Kabba clearly works better with Mansaram than with loveable Livvo, the lumpen lumbering lodestone. Mansaram's last contribution was to fall in the area. He received a pass from Kabba, about 10 yards out to the left of goal. He tried to turn but slipped as the defender came through him to clear (and was gently tugging his shirt at the same time - something we could see, being 30 foot above the incident and directly behind). Personally I would have given the penalty for a foul by the groundsman - the Town players kept slipping and tripping over the turf all through the game.
Despite Livvo's arrival, Town still had the game by the throat. A corner on Town's right was curled high into the centre. Santos rose above the world to head towards the centre-left of the goal. It wasn't a powerful thump, the ball seemingly looping a bit. Kabba threw himself forward and the ball disappeared from view as Chamberlain, Kabba and a defender all converged on the same spot. It looked, for a fleeting moment, like a goal, but the ball suddenly appeared on the ground as Chamberlain dropped it, then belly-flopped onto the plastic pig.
Watford in another attack! Calm down. Their player cut inside from their right and lifted a ‘shot' high, wide and ugly. Result: scrum down, 25 yards. A little later fans almost "oo”-ed when a cross bumbled slowly through the area, for no one, a cross that could have lasted years.
Disadvantage number two. Campbell near the half way line on a quick break, with Town outnumbering the Watford defenders. The referee called play back for a Town free kick inside the area. And a minute later yet more fury emanated from all monochromers. Pouton was felled by their number 23, Hand, who was the sort of player despised by opposition supporters. He likes to leave his mark, as late as possible. ‘Felled' as in he caught Pouton very late. And a minute later Hand brought down Campbell when Campbell surged away on a quick break. Campbell tried to take the free kick quickly, but Hand stood on the ball and argued. Two opportunities for a booking, but not taken. You see, he'd already been booked. The result of all this was that Pouton was booked for complaining, though Pouton had the sense to drag Campbell away before he too was booked. These may seem like minor moments, but they did halt Town and help Watford.
With about 15 minutes left Watford brought on a midfielder, Vernazza, who was rather unkindly greeted by certain Town fans to a rendition of Colonel Bogey: "Vernazza, has only got one...". Come on - surely we could have more sympathy for a victim of crime?
And still Town pressed. Kabba had a couple of furious forays down the right, resulting in corners and crosses. Chamberlain made some desperate parries and punches from crosses, with Cooke lobbing one of these back towards the top left corner, but with insufficient power or elevation. As Town pushed forward more and more, there were, of course, gaps at the back. Watford wasted a couple of golden opportunities through players being greedy, which was nice for us. All they needed to do was pass to the unmarked player on the edge of the area but they were attracted to the blue shirts, like an undiscerning Top Man customer.
Coyne was forced to make a save from one of these rare moments of cohesion and danger. Webber (I think) dribbled past Santos on a breakaway, swayed to the right of goal and, from seemingly just a few yards out, hit a shot against Coyne's bottom. A further wibble was caused by a break down their left, a cross to the near post and Santos intercepted with a flying cushioned volley back to Coyne. The Watford fans roared, claiming a back pass, for they too recognised Santos' imperious ball skills. Of course he meant to do it, it's easy.
It's not over yet. With five or so minutes left Cooke was replaced by Robinson and after a fine flowing move Pouton hit a low fizzer from 20 yards which was diverted a yard wide of the right-hand post by the studs of a defender. Kabba burst down the left and cut inside, beating one defender and falling when nudged gently by a second. "Penalty," cried the Town fans, more in hope than expectation. No, of course not. We roared and roared on the boys in powder blue, with Santos and Ford almost permanently stationed inside the Watford area.
All of which meant that Town would be a little vulnerable on the break. In the second of the three minutes of added time a hoofed clearance bounced behind Ward. He chased back with the Watford substitute, Smith, who out jumped and barged his way forward. Ward chased, but Smith was a little too quick, bearing down upon Coyne on the centre. SMITH glided to the right and whacked a right-footed shot into the centre left of Coyne's goal from perhaps 15 yards. With that, 50 or so Town fans got up and left, frustrated by the result, given the performance, I presume. Which was a pity, as the players deserved an ovation from all, not just the ones who bothered to see out the last 37 seconds.
So another defeat to another mundane team that should aspire to be 14th. But that's another mundane team that takes its chances, I suppose. The Town performance was, overall, probably the best so far this season, with a back four that looked quite good, especially in the centre. Kabba continued in the same form as he ended on Tuesday; he was hot, hot , hot. I just wish they'd cast Livvo in bronze and place his statue on the bench to ‘inspire'. Town passed, Town moved, Town dominated really. The second goal was the result of pushing everyone forward; these things happen (and they frequently do to Town). The first goal resulted from the usual thrashing around at a corner - the ball just fell to an opponent. These things happen (and they frequently do to Town).
Town look OK now; let's hope that the returners don't disrupt what we've stumbled into. The only negative to take from this game was the result but that, in the end, is the important thing. If you can have an encouraging defeat this was it. It was 2,000 light years from the home performance last week.
Man of the match
Well, let's see - Ford and Ward were impressive, and Pouton eventually returned to some dazzling form, doing stepovers and back flicks all over the place. One man stood head and shoulders above all. Quite literally. Georges Santos, mean, moody, magnificent? Oh yes. A touch-tackling, ball-playing centre back, like a psychopathic Handyside.
You've read the report. He was quite pathetic really. He managed to infuriate both sets of supporters, though I assume the Watfordians were playing up their image of self-aware ironists by chanting "you don't know what you're doing" at him, for overall they benefited from his little madnesses. I feel inclined to award 3.8, as he showed himself incapable of understanding what was happening. He would have got even lower marks if he'd awarded Town penalties.