Watford made to pay high price for defensive lapses

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The Independent Online

Weakness at set-plays, not a fault normally associated with Graham Taylor's teams, cost Watford their unbeaten record at Vicarage Road last night. This sub-standard performance might have cost them the Nationwide First Division leadership as well had Fulham's match away to the other Sheffield club, United, not been postponed. Corners by Terry Cooke led to two of the goals before Watford were caught dozing again at a throw-in that gave Alan Quinn the opportunity to lift Wednesday out of the bottom three.

Weakness at set-plays, not a fault normally associated with Graham Taylor's teams, cost Watford their unbeaten record at Vicarage Road last night. This sub-standard performance might have cost them the Nationwide First Division leadership as well had Fulham's match away to the other Sheffield club, United, not been postponed. Corners by Terry Cooke led to two of the goals before Watford were caught dozing again at a throw-in that gave Alan Quinn the opportunity to lift Wednesday out of the bottom three.

So Taylor's words of warning before the kick-off, "there are going to be games which are not so clever", proved prophetic. But as the man on the public address system emphasised no fewer than three times to a disappointed home crowd, Watford are still eight points ahead of third-placed Birmingham City, with a game in hand.

Despite having also been a Premiership side last May, Wednesday have humbler aims these days, and set off back up the M1 last night with their travelling band serenading the fact that they look less likely to go straight through the First Division without stopping. "I've been saying Wednesday are a better side than their position indicates," Taylor said later. Strengthened considerably by the return of Andy Booth and Andy Hinchcliffe after what their manager, Paul Jewell, had called a "shambolic" display at Crystal Palace, they set out to prove it from the start, making the only real chances before taking the lead after 37 minutes.

Tony Crane, a teenage midfielder, troubled Espen Baardsen early on with a thunderous 30-yard drive and the crossbar shook after Andy Booth's head met Cooke's corner.

Even with the lanky Richard Jobson back at Vicarage Road on loan, the home side were uncomfortable facing set-pieces. A second corner by Cooke proved their undoing, the outswinging kick bouncing in off Jobson as Steve Haslam challenged. All that after losing the Dutch striker Gerald Sibon in the 12th minute with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.

Whatever Taylor said at half-time, the former England manager's actions spoke louder than his words, for within three minutes of the resumption, one of the two substitutes he had sent on, Tommy Smith, collected an equaliser. It was an old-fashioned Watford goal, Gifton Noel-Williams and Tommy Mooney flicking on headers to send Smith clear of a defence appealing for offside.

As the band played on, however, the home defence hit the wrong note at another Cooke corner, which was headed in by Crane despite David Perpetuini's lunge on the line. Taylor's third attacking substitution had less dramatic effect and seven minutes from the end, Quinn netted from a sharp angle.

Watford (4-4-2): Baardsen; Cox, Jobson, Page, Perpetuini (Smart, 80); Wooter (Smith, h-t), Palmer, Neilsen, Mooney; Noel-Williams, Helguson (Easton, h-t). Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Gibbs.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Hendon, Haslam, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Cooke, Crane, Harkness (Lescott, 87), Quinn; Sibon (Di Piedi, 12), Booth. Substitutes not used: Stringer (gk), Geary, Morrison.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

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