goal that ended the dream: 6 ft 4 in George Reilly beats Lindsay
Smith to force home an unstoppable header
The cruel dip and
curve of a shot, missing its target by inches, deprived Plymouth Argyle of
the chance to extend their fantastic FA Cup run for another tormenting
half-hour in the sunshine at Villa Park.
The last pulsating
seconds of the Pilgrims’ courageous semi-final challenge were ticking
away when nearly 44,000 totally absorbed soccer fans gasped as Plymouth’s
two Gordons - Nisbet and Staniforth - created havoc in the heart of
wriggled out of a corner on the right-hand side of the box, planted the
ball in and Kevin Hodges, with a first-time blow with the outside of his
left boot, plunged ‘keeper Steve Sherwood into total confusion.
The shot - destined
for the inside of Sherwood’s right-hand post - went as straight as an
arrow. But the moment it touched the ground, it swerved just enough on the
bounce to finish up outside the woodwork.
"I was convinced
it was going in," reflected Hodges later. It only took a slight
deflection but it was enough to send the ball spinning away from the post.
"I still can’t believe it happened".
Success, even at that
late stage, would certainly have been the perfect reward for Argyle’s
valiant refusal to yield to their First Division opponents.
Argyle just couldn’t
afford to make mistakes against a side capable of punishing them whenever
chinks were pierced in their green-coated armoury. By the finish, however,
just one little slip had proved enough.
stray pass was picked up by John Barnes and Nisbet was caught out of
position as the England winger sped away down the left.
The 6ft 4in George
Reilly towering high above every player in sight, was just far enough
ahead of Lindsay Smith to stretch his massive frame to connect with Barnes’
Argyle rarely allowed
Barnes or Reilly to inflict that type of damage again. Nor were they
intimidated or overawed by Watford’s unique attacking style.
They once again
raised their performance to their accepted FA Cup level and contested
every ball with all their familiar enthusiasm and skill.
They were never
outplayed - apart from one spell midway through the second half when they
found it difficult to get players forward. But for all Watford’s
superior show of strength at that stage Argyle refused to wilt.
Nisbet closed in and
cornered Barnes as bravely and as expertly as he could, while the battle
between Smith and Reilly developed into the key confrontation of the whole
It was crunch-time
whenever these former Cambridge United team-mates clashed and Smith, apart
from the one moment that produced the goal, didn’t lose out in the air
or on the ground where the pair finished up so often after tangling
together in fierce combat.
These two campaigners
pitched into each other like old-time wrestlers permitted only to use
their feet and heads to win points. They went for each other almost from
the first bell and finished up as they started - the best of pals and the
first to shake hands when the final whistle sounded.
Fears that Argyle
players would freeze in the opening stages were soon dispelled.
It would have been
understandable if the Third Division underdogs had been unnerved by the
tumultuous welcome they received from virtually three sides of the ground
when they appeared on the pitch.
The stadium - lit up
in brilliant sunshine - was a kaleidoscope of colour, with the green and
white of Plymouth Argyle fans emblazoned vividly against the red and gold
The colour scheme
alone made this semi-final something apart from the rest. And afterwards
many experts agreed that the quality of the game itself produced one of
the best ties they had witnessed for many years.
made a vital 18th-minute save to thwart Reilly. A second goal then and the
Pilgrims could have waved Wembley goodbye.
Instead Tommy Tynan
and Staniforth kept beavering away through the middle while Andy Rogers,
with his tantalising ball skills and incisive running, threatened to
overshadow the menace of Barnes and Nigel Callaghan on the Watford flanks.
Tynan shot over;
Cooper charged through and had his effort diverted for a corner and Hodges
flashed a header only inches over the top. John Uzzell also caused panic
in the Watford ranks when he glanced a header across the goalmouth. Rogers
let fly, minutes later, but had his shot charged down.
needed the incentive of an early second-half breakthrough to keep their
enthusiasm stoked up. It almost came when Rogers, proving as elusive as
ever, crossed; Tynan dummied and Staniforth drove the ball into Sherwood’s
Neil Price, the full
back who recently spent a month on loan to Home Park, made Watford hearts
miss a beat when he headed the ball only inches past his own goal to clear
a centre from Staniforth.
The quality of Argyle’s
passing deteriorated as Watford hit their best spell. It seemed like an
eternity before Argyle moved into gear again. Nisbet crash-tackled Barnes,
and was also cautioned.
Watford were forced
to reshuffle their side when central defender Steve Terry was hurt in a
clash with Cooper. With ten minutes to go he was replaced by Richard
Johnson and Reilly surprisingly switched to the middle of the back four.
Argyle found the
strength and stamina to mount a final assault. They drove forward, working
on the theory that they now had nothing to lose, and hemmed Watford into
their own half.
They won a couple of
corners and a free kick and everything pointed to a dramatic late
equaliser that came so fractionally close to reality when Hodges’
stabbing drive inched past the post.
When the referee blew
for the last time Argyle players immediately shook hands with the victors
and gathered together to parade in front of their supporters in a moving
and sincere tribute of gratitude for their unprecedented show of loyalty
on the long trail from Southend in November to Villa Park in April.
Sherwood, Bardsley, Price, Taylor, Terry (Jobson), Sinnott, Callaghan,
Johnston, ReiIly, Rostron, Barnes.
Crudgington, Nisbet, Uzzell, Harrison, Smith, Cooper, Hodges, Phillips,
Tynan, Staniforth, Rogers. Sub: Rowe.
Scorer: Watford -
Referee: Mr. J.
ARGYLE MAKE FRIENDS BUT WATFORD MAKE
Country folk wandered
around in fancy dress, a rainbow of balloons filled the sky, ice-melted in
the sunshine and a cricket match built up a gentle finish nearby. Rather
than FA CUP semi-final day, often darkened by fears, it was an afternoon of
smiles out on one Birmingham’s village greens.
Even the main
fairground at Villa Park echoed a delightful spirit of long ago. The
referee’s decision, some of them curious, were accepted without argument,
offenders collect the ball and return it to the appropriate spot amid
respectful applause and scarcely an obscene chant was to be heard from an
audience of almost 44 000.
Reilly, as lean and
tall as a circus tent’s circular pole, won a place in history for Watford
but Plymouth Argyle, expected to be little more than a side-show, won
everybody’s respect. They have already surpassed their hopes and, with
luck, might have travelled beyond their dreams.
Two years ago Plymouth,
who were 10 minutes away from bankruptcy and football’s Elysian fields.
Had Smith not wasted a clear opportunity at the beginning and had Hodges not
seen his attempt curl away and brush a post at the end, they could by now be
preparing to visit Wembley’s turf.
So unlikely was the
prospect of Plymouth reaching this season’s final that any discussion of
bonuses was considered "a waste of time" in Plymouth back in
August. On the other hand, the Watford manager, Graham Taylor, was so
convinced that this was going to be Watford’s year that in December he
advised the chairman, Elton John, to keep May 19 free in his diary.
Despite being without
the injured Jackett. Watford were the favourites, but they dominated the tie
for merely a quarter of an hour. Barnes began, in an otherwise surprisingly
lethargic display, by gliding down the left and crossing for Reilly to stoop
and head clearly home. Only 13 minutes had passed.
After Crudgington had
blocked Reilly’s crisp drive and Johnston had nodded narrowly over the
bar, Callaghan signalled the end of Barne’s brief period of domination, by
claiming another "goal" from an offside position. Plymouth,
combating Watford’s clear superiority in the air by keeping the game glued
to the ground, then belied their position as underdogs.
Tynan, the leading
scorer in the country last season. Staniforth. Cooper and Hodges all
threatened to catch more than the eye, particularly as Sherwood threatened
to drop more than the occasional high ball. Watford’s manager admitted
that he was relieved the match did not go into extra time.
Plymouth, who tonight
return to more mundane affairs in Bolton, have taken an estimated, and
welcome, £80 000 from their Cup run. Losing semi-finalists are not often
remembered, but their followers, so warm and generous in defeat, will not
forget the club’s contribution to the Cup success of the third division
GOODBYE PLYMOUTH, DON’T BE RELEGATED
I suppose that if you
were forced to pick the side best able to carry the romantic’s banner
onward to Wembley you couldn’t have a better second choice than Watford,
but for all that my heart bleeds for Plymouth Argyle after following the
third division side from the third round.
From the moment that
the enormous Reilly, looking like an adult in a kid’s kick-about, headed
Watford’s goal in the thirteenth minute, it looked as if Plymouth were
going to get their come-upance at last, and that Watford would bad a hatful.
But not a bit of it.
"I knew Plymouth
would come at us in the first 10 minutes", Watford’s winger, Barnes,
said, "and they did. What surprised me was the way they kept coming at
us for the rest of the match." John Hore, the Plymouth manager, looking
brave and Byronic after the match, said his side had had more of the ball,
that it was a tremendous game.
Hore speaks no word of
a lie. It was a terrific game, played with three real, running, dribbling
winders and two sides vulnerable to attack on the flanks, or anywhere else
for that matter. Rogers, or Plymouth, had a game his grandchildren will
love, while Callaghan and Barnes were splendid going the other way. Barnes,
who made the goal, has the winger’s ability to make the molecules of his
body disperse at will, so that he can run straight through people without
deviating and reassemble on the other side.
The match was played in
a party atmosphere, with balloons and confetti, and supporters unused to
triumph decked out in colours that made Hore’s lucky purple track suit
look tasteful, two opposed Sargasso Seas of custard yellow and angelica
green that made you thank your stars you were not at Highbury. This
semi-final at Villa Park reminded you that football, amazingly, can still be
fun. And Plymouth gave it all they had.
They had Rodgers
running round and round and round like Dougal in The Magic Roundabout, Tynan
and Staniforth busting a gut to score, while Sherwood in the Watford goal
kept turning to stone, or dropping the ball, or sometimes confusing everyone
by making saves. At the other end Smith was sitting on Reilly’s shoulders
like the old man of the sea, determined to allow no further goals.
It was Hodges who had
the last try for Plymouth and he certainly gave the ball a decent clout. But
he had reckoned without the psychokinetic power of the Watford thousands
behind the goal; their mental forces made the ball curl fractionally wide,
and that was that.
It’s been real, lads. Tonight they play Bolton in a league match, and I
hope they don’t get relegated. That wouldn’t be funny.