Watton battle to victory

What a difference a week makes. Watton travelled to Cromer on the back of two straight home defeats in cup and league and with confidence apparently at a very low ebb and won 3-1.

What a difference a week makes. Watton travelled to Cromer on the back of two straight home defeats in cup and league and with confidence apparently at a very low ebb and won 3-1.

They also faced the unusual situation of a reduced squad due to two late call-offs, with half of the players who were present arriving just 30 minutes before kick-off and joint-manager, Vince Harwood, unable to make the game at all.

And yet despite these unfortunate omens, United turned in an excellent fighting display and deservedly came away with all three points, if only for their endeavour alone.

From the first whistle there seemed to be something different about Watton. They were clearly well-up for the game and determined to make amends for a pitiful performance at home to AFC Norwich the previous week, which manager Mike Derbyshire described as their worst showing in his time at the club.

But Derbyshire had also expressed his absolute confidence that United could and would turn things around. And from the moment Callaghan drove home a blistering 25-yard drive to give Watton the lead after just four minutes this afternoon, the players appeared intent on justifying that confidence.

On a sticky, tricky surface, the visitors set-up with a 4-5-1 formation and concentrated on getting the ball forward down the flanks or to lone striker, Nichols, as early as possible. They fought for every ball in the air and on the ground and never let the home side settle.

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Cromer are a good passing team and posed a constant threat going forward. However Leggett and Harrison were steady and strong in the middle at the back and Sharpe, Astbury and Bloomfield worked their socks off in central midfield. Meanwhile Callaghan and Walker and Mark Woods and Campbell provided a good outlet for relieving any pressure and as a springboard for counter-attacks.

Upfront, Nichols was an ever-present handful for the Cromer back-four, which looked uncertain at times.

Indeed, Nichols almost doubled Watton's lead on nine minutes but his low drive flashed just wide. But it was his lovely curling effort from the edge of the penalty area that did make it 2-0 on 21 minutes after the home side failed to clear effectively following a free-kick.

Cromer were somewhat shell-shocked but to their credit, re-established their composure and began to put United under a good deal of pressure. However, on the occasions when Town were able to break through Watton's stalwart defence, they found United goalkeeper, Matt Webster, in outstanding form. Webster was alert and commanding between the sticks and made a string of saves throughout the game to earn himself the man-of-the-match award.

Just before half-time, Cromer did eventually get themselves back into the match with a deflected strike from 18-yards. And in reality, they put Watton under a lot of pressure right from the start of the second 45.

But United boss Derbyshire had urged his players to carry their solid first-half form through the interval and on all the way to the 90th minute and they responded with the kind of fighting spirit that has been missing at times this season. On an increasingly heavy pitch, a combination of hard running and tackling and the brilliance of Webster continued to defy Cromer. Whilst at the other end, Bloomfield, Campbell and Harrison all had decent chances to extend United's lead.

As the game wore on, Watton simply dug their heels in and refused to surrender the three points, despite all the home side's efforts to batter their door down.

Then, with five minutes left, Campbell got clear on the left and although his cross eluded the in-rushing Bloomfield, Walker was able to pick the ball up and turn it back into the path of Nichols, who finished low from 16-yards to secure the win. The assistant's flag had gone up earlier in the move but the referee overruled him and the goal was allowed to stand.

Cromer continued to push all the way to the final whistle but could not rescue the result.

Watton will play far better than this over the course of the season but following a difficult start to 2008/09, this win represents an important consolidating step at a stage when some people might just have begun to write them off.

United now entertain bottom side Wroxham Reserves in a crucial fixture at Dereham Road on Tuesday evening (7.30). But a repeat of this commitment coupled with a return to their more usual flowing football should give Watton every chance of another vital three points.