Adrian Boothroyd may be one of the most promising managers in the Football League, but his Watford side won few admirers with a win-at-all-costs performance that stymied Luton Town's attempts to get back into a furious M1 derby.
Watford won the game in the first 30 minutes through a Darius Henderson volley and a controversial goal from defender Malky Mackay, but what defined the game was the sight of the Watford players rolling on the ground to eat up the minutes.
Luton manager Mike Newell stopped himself short when asked if the away side had been cheating: "That's not a word I can use because I don't want to end up in hot water," he said. "We've got an honest bunch of players and I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm thinking, do I have to ask our lads to dive around and roll around if that's the way the game's going? It's the English game and a blood and thunder derby and you want there to be a few tackles, but for some reason that's gone out of the game."
Mackay's goal, which turned out to be the winner, was the beginning of the controversy. The defender stabbed the ball towards the Luton goal from a disputed free kick on the right of the box, but Luton goalkeeper Marlon Beresford looked to have smothered the ball until the linesman signalled a goal. In the 65th minute, after Carlos Edwards had given Luton some hope with a sweet 20-yard strike, Ashley Young was sent off. The striker ran back onto the pitch after an apparent injury, and kicked out at Kevin Foley's shins when the Luton defender had clattered into him from behind.
That seemed to be the catalyst for Luton to complete their comeback, but the Watford players used every trick to play down the minutes, until Clark Carlisle was booked for ambling 50 yards to collect a throw-in. The salt was rubbed into the wound when Warren Feeney looked to have been brought down in the box, but play was waved on.
"We got nothing from either the referee or the linesmen today," lamented Newell, who must now pick his team up for the FA Cup visit of Liverpool this weekend.
Boothroyd, who has deservedly won praise from all quarters for turning Watford from relegation fodder into firm promotion candidates, was unrepentant.
"It depends on the position you're in,we've had teams manage the game against us many times, and the best teams at managing games in this league are Reading and Sheffield United. We're learning to manage games better, and when you manage games you can win games when you don't play well."
Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford, Foley, Heikkinen, Barnett, Underwood, Edwards, (Showumni 62), Nicholls, Brkovic, Robinson, Howard, Vine (Feeney 75)
Watford (4-4-2): Foster, Chambers (DeMerit 74), Mackay, Carlisle, Doyley, McNamee (Stewart 57), Bangura (Spring 76), Mahon, Young, King, Henderson.
Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)Reuse content