Aug 12 Carling Cup - First Round Watford 1-0 AFC Bournemouth aet Att: 9561

Last updated : 13 August 2003 By Pete Wicks
So – the First Round of the Football League Cup – now with yet another new sponsor. We were sat in the Vicarage Road (i.e. north) end, and at 7.40 the tannoy announced KO 8.00 through crowd congestion. This was probably due to it being the first home game and only a fiver for all to get in. So at 8.00 the teams walked out to Coolio's "Gangsta Paradise", Jimmy Davis' favourite track (I vaguely recognised it). Strong, standing applause from all sides. His death on Saturday morning on the M40, and that of a loyal club servant, Peter Lambourne, were marked further by a minute's silence; the football community has lost 2 of its own and we must honour them.

Cherries lined up with same 11 and same strip as Saturday on a warm, steamy evening. Hornets KO'd towards us but we took the game to them – Elliott & Thomas bright early on and Captain Fantastic tackling and intercepting well. Both sides were moving freely. Captain Fantastic put a magnificent over-the-top ball for Elliott to run onto, round the left-back, cross to Supa-Fletch and the header went back across goal. This set our pattern. Thomas was used a lot via Cummings, O'Connor & Supa-Fletch; a particular ploy was for Supa-Fletch to head or chest it down for Thomas to run on & burst through. That meant Supa-Fletch was away from the area (good? bad?), and not enough runners from midfield to have anyone at the end of crosses. However, Watford were generally a half-yard quicker on the ground and in the head for most of the half. Ex-Womble Ardley was quick & sharp at right-wingback and put over a good cross for Webber to head over. Marcus Gayle, another ex-Womble & now a centre-back, pushed over Elliott but no free-kick resulted. Gayle was generally quick, good positioning & not afraid to mix it, but as the match wore on Supa-Fletch dominated the aerial stuff increasingly, winning most headers even when double-marked (which again should've given space for a runner from our midfield).

O'Connor was increasingly influential, and came forward enough to put in a shot – somewhat wide. Broadhurst put in a tremendous block on Webber, allowed to bear down on goal. Like us on Saturday, both sides were over-hitting passes wide – changed thermodynamics in such hot air? Superb battling in midfield released Thomas for a deep cross, Elliott hooking it back. Then Elliott tried on his own, a left-footer going high & wide. Neither keeper was kicking well, from hand or off ground, but we managed to put in loads of crosses. Another Supa-Fletch/Thomas combo won a corner, from which Captain Fantastic shot well over. Webber's shot was covered well by Purches Snr. for a corner, leading to 2 back-flicks and a header over the bar. Supa-Fletch's header fed Hayter who put in Thomas; the shot was outside the near post. From Purches Snr.'s superb ball, Elliott was bullied out by the fullback, but no free was given. This was one of several bad decisions by the officials – most to our loss but a few against the home side – and the game deteriorated at times as a result.

Hayter was put through but the ball was just too long, then Thomas tracked back & won the ball off Ardley. Thomas was having a tremendous game, with just his final ball lacking sometimes. O'Connor put him in, the combination quite exquisite, a corner resulting, but Purches Snr.'s attempt was embarrassingly wide. The lads behind me sang, "You're just a small town in Luton" – bizarre, worse than excoriating Stockport for being in Lancs! The half ended with a splendid O'Connor-Elliott link. Again much of the football and b-all to show for it.

Half time 0-0.

It didn't help my note-taking when all stand lights went out at KO, but we lit up the field when Thomas burst onto Supa-Fletch's header. Then Purches Snr. put off Webber's header & was crocked. He continued, but Elliott had to stay back most of the half to help out. That meant Thomas became the only out-ball option, with Supa-Fletch often back on defensive duties. However, Thomas's next run & shot led to a corner, from which Captain Fantastic's header hit the base of the post & he couldn't reach the rebound properly. Thomas continued to tackle back; Cummings seemed a little more near his game compared to Sat. but I think he's still to improve. With Supa-Fletch & Thomas a real handful, Cherries were really in the van. Browning's header to Hayter, & on to Thomas, forced Gayle to concede another corner. However, a right-wing error saw a cross to Webber whose header hit Helgusson & was cleared. We didn't pussy-foot in defence – big clearances more than passing it out. We were bossing it, but over-cleverness allowed Hornets to raid & required good defence again. Mossie had to show his agility, tipping over a 22-yard free-kick. Hayter showed skill but Thomas wasted it by running the ball out of play. Inevitably there was pinball in our box, but staunch defence cleared the danger. Some of this stemmed from apparent lack of talking on the field – better 2 go for the same ball than none, but on several occasions one player should've been more decisive.

O'Connor was probing and clawing at the Watford midfield like a pangolin rootling in an anthill; his passes flicking here & there like the anteater's tongue. Although the game had plenty of movement, & his was among the best, there was a lack of quality on both sides preventing a defining strike. We were being forced back gradually, so Thomas made way for Feeney on 80, leaving the field to a standing ovation. Mossie had to gather from a spilled save, then Broadhurst turned up at inside-right after an attack, dropping the ball back in the area. Helgusson headed over from point-blank range, and Feeney made a superb surge up the right wing. 90 minutes ended with the home defence all to pot. Full time 0-0, and both sides knackered.

The first period of extra time began with a superb cross from Elliott but Supa-Fletch's header went at the keeper's feet & he managed to cling on to the ball. Supa-Fletch was immense in this period – another 2 headers but going straight at the keeper. We saw a raised arm; Helgusson went down, the ref. called Browning (I think) over, but both officials that side were clearly unsighted. Verbal warnings, no cards, but my mate Simon, an Ealing Hornet who drove me home, said he had a full view & it was an elbow, a deliberate movement. Whether provoked or not, decidedly unclever. Browning made a great run at inside-right ending with a foul; the free-kick was shovelled away. Soon, Webber tangled with Broadhurst – who walked away. Webber was booked, then the free moved 10 yards further. So he's been signed (at last) from ManU – but it's still the wrong kind of arrogance. Supa-Fletch headed inside to O'Connor who went forward but shot wide. It was still 0-0 at extra-time half-time. The final period began with a home corner. Cook centred, it evaded everyone and that f…… Scott Fizgerald, on at the last break, slid in at the far post. 108 minutes, 1-0. In response, Feeney ran head down and shot poorly from too far out. Holmes replaced Purches Snr. on 112, and Tindall had a brief run-out, on for Browning on 114, but Watford closed it down. Hayter flicked just wide, and that was it.

Watford won't uproot many trees this season, and we held them for 107 minutes, never really bested. But… for all the effort and good football, there's still no return. There were times when I thought, if we play like this on Saturday there's no point Barnsley turning up, but if we don't win that game I can see confidence sapping. All very well being pleased by the way we play, but we actually have to win games. I note Amos Foyewa scored again for Woking…

Although Carl Fletcher had a typically excellent game, it has to go to Gareth O'Connor who ran his butt off; always looking for the opening & pass, covering, probing, never giving up and absolutely knackered at the end. Frankly, Stock should look closely at this performance & realise that's what he has to do – talent allied to workrate & commitment - & only then will he be worth a place in a side. Captain Fantastic & O'Connor could easily live in Div.1 on these displays.

AFCB: Moss, Broadhurst, Thomas, Cummings, S Purches, Browning, C Fletcher, Elliott, S Fletcher, Hayter, O'Connor
Subs: Stewart, Stock, Tindall (for Browning, 114), Feeney (for Thomas, 80), Holmes (for S Purches, 112)
Pete Wicks, Uxbridge