THIS very special occasion proved a game of two halves in more than one way, with hosts Watford rallying after a slow start to go down 5-3 to their visitors from Preston North End, as the Vicarage Road stadium hosted it’s first ever IFA league fixture.
The travelling opposition were too hat to handle for WIFC’s starting line-up for much of the first 45 minutes, cruising into a 5-1 interval lead – abetted by some poor defensive decision-making – with only captain Stu Nicholls’ right-foot finish after good work from Mark O’Connor to show for their toil.
O’Connor was a constant threat down the wide expanses of The Vic’s generously-sized carpet of a playing surface, while elsewhere across the pitch the Internet ‘Orns struggled to cope with PNE’s movement and swift interchange play – this despite the best efforts of centre-halves Dan Moss and Mike Viney.
It was a different story after the break with the second-half team playing higher up the pitch and forcing North End into the kind of errors in possession that they hadn’t been under pressure often enough to make pre-interval.
Around five minutes into the second 45, WIFC’s hopes of an unlikely come-back were raised when Charlie Wood slotted home after the ball broke kindly to him from a spree of tough tackles between the sides.
And although the come-back didn’t materialise in full, the Hornets took advantage of their fresh legs to enjoy the better of territory although Preston’s swift passing always offered a threat on the counter. Player-manager Richard Walker was forced into several smart reaction saves to ensure the visitors didn’t add to their tally.
There was just time before the final whistle for the arrears to be reduced to two when Ally Hill crashed home a header from a corner.
Full-time was followed by beers & pizza for everyone in the Players’ Lounge after a very special opportunity to play on the award-winning hallowed turf of Vicarage Road.
First Half: Mesiano; Ainsley, Viney, Moss, P Labbett; Holdham, Sperinck, Anderson; O’Connor, Nicholls (c), Church.
Second Half: Walker, Maloney, Viney, Hill, Ladell, Shelock, Stone, Murphy; Elvery, Wood, T Labbett.
Subs used: Eustice, Wells.