Watford waste chances to go top

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The Independent Online

The three Gillingham supporters who cycled from home to last night's game at Vicarage Road (probably taking less time than those who used the M25) were rewarded by a performance of equal fortitude from their team, plucking an unlikely draw from a game in which they were out-played for long periods.

The three Gillingham supporters who cycled from home to last night's game at Vicarage Road (probably taking less time than those who used the M25) were rewarded by a performance of equal fortitude from their team, plucking an unlikely draw from a game in which they were out-played for long periods.

Graham Taylor's high-fliers, failing to win for only the second time this season, deserved an eighth successive victory that would have propelled them to the top of the First Division table again, at least until Fulham's home game with Crystal Palace this evening.

After a dominant first half, however, they were brought down to earth in the second, without ever being in danger of a first defeat in 11 matches. "I think we hammered them 0-0," said Taylor, whose good humour reflected his satisfaction with the performance, goalless or not. "We played some good stuff and just didn't put the ball in the net."

Nobody was closer than Darren Ward, a centre-half of promise, who came up from the back to shudder the bar twice before half-time, first with a header and then a thumping 25-yard drive. Gifton Noel-Williams, the young striker who has only recently returned after a knee injury that might have ended his career, was twice close and Allan Nielsen, the former Tottenham midfielder, shot too high.

Just before the interval Gillingham's Vince Bartram did well to touch Tommy Smith's deft header round a post and Heidar Helguson, clean through, lobbed over the goalkeeper but also the bar. The visitors looked like reprieved men when the half-time whistle sent them to the sanctuary of the dressing-room.

Taylor's typically bold formation, with three men up, allowed no scope to the visitors' wing-backs, who, in any case, had their work cut out defending. Two unsuccessful shouts for hands against Watford's captain Robert Page and a shot from Paul Smith that dipped too late were the best they managed.

At the start of the second half, Noel-Williams drifted a header fractionally wide and Micah Hyde, who had supplied the cross, went almost as close with a low drive. But chances became less frequent and the Kentish men, driven on by their player-manager Andy Hessenthaler - once, of course, a Watford stalwart - hung on to reward the saddle-sore trio and their fellow fans with a third successive draw to consolidate their position in the middle of the pack. It was all rather different to Saturday's epic 4-4 draw at Wimbledon, the absence of Carl Asaba, the leading goalscorer who was injured after scoring the late equaliser on that occasion, going some way to explaining Gillingham's lack of thrust.

Watford (4-3-3): Chamberlain; Cox, Page, Ward, Robinson; Smith, Hyde (Wooter, 78), Palmer, Nielsen; Helguson (Foley, 87), Noel-Williams, Smith. Substitutes not used: Gibbs, Easton, Day (gk).

Gillingham (3-5-2): Bartram; Ashby, Pennock, Hope; Southall, Smith, Saunders, Hessenthaler, Patterson (Edge, 48); Shaw (King, 60), Thomson (Onuora, 71). Substitutes not used: Lewis, James (gk).

Referee: A Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).

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