Football: Pompey's pantomime

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The Independent Online
Watford 0 Portsmouth 0

"FRILLS, SURPRISES, fun and laughter," claimed The Watford Observer. The crowd filing into one of Watford's most prestigious venues had, by all accounts, a highly entertaining Saturday afternoon.

But away from Jack and the Beanstalk at the Palace Theatre, fans at Vicarage Road had a less eventful 90 minutes. This was perhaps a relief after Watford's 5-2 FA Cup defeat against Spurs last week, while for Portsmouth it was a second successive clean sheet away from home after their FA Cup victory over Nottingham Forest.

Portsmouth's much-publicised fracas with the Inland Revenue, to whom they reportedly owe more than pounds 400,000, has to be resolved by 3 February, but their dangerous flirtation with the Second Division will be aided by this valuable point.

"A lot of my responsibility is to the players and the fans - I've got to be the front man," the manager, Alan Ball, said afterwards. "The uncertainty in my club is massive - they [the players] are digging in."

A strong element of pantomime was provided by the otherwise excellent Watford midfielder Richard Johnson after a poor opening period. Following a strong run and powerfully-hit cross from Peter Kennedy, Johnson became the first Watford player to clear the substantial stand behind the goal - his spectacularly mis-judged shot described an almost vertical trajectory up into the evening sky.

To the ironic amusement of the home crowd, it did not come down again. Statisticians and astronomers may have equal claim on the freakish effort, the former as an attempt on goal, the latter as the first comet sighted over Watford in 1999.

Graham Taylor's shrewd triple substitution after an hour was a laudable attempt to win a stale game, and it was a pleasure to see the 30-year- old ex-Aston Villa winger Tony Daley among the fresh faces. Daley has played just 34 games in four-and-a-half years after assorted injuries including a damaged cruciate ligament.

Daley's first run showed his value to the club if he can stay fit. He controlled the ball neatly on the right wing and curled a low cross into the six-yard box.

Allan Knight, Portsmouth's veteran goalkeeper, pushed the ball out to Johnson whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Portsmouth defenders and his unfortunate team-mate, Gifton Noel-Williams.

Watford (4-4-2) Chamberlain; Iroha (Bonnot, 62), Page, Palmer, Bazeley; Hyde, Johnson, Wright (Daley, 62), Kennedy; Smart (Mooney, 62), Noel-Williams.

Portsmouth (4-4-2) Petterson; Robinson, Thomson, Whitbread, Vlachos; Igoe, McLoughlin (Hillier, 32), Simpson, Nightingale; Claridge, Peron. Substitutes not used: Andreasson, Thogersen.

Booking: Watford Kennedy.

Referee: R Oliver (Sutton Coldfield).

Man of the Match: Sammy Igoe.

Attendance: 12,057.