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Nationwide Division One, 19/8/00
The moon is made of cheese
By Ian Grant

I've no idea what's going on any more. Everything's gone wonky, and it's not just the post-celebration hangover.

We have to be able to rely on certain things. Without some fairly basic reference points to guide us on our way, the great routemap of life becomes impossibly confusing and we get completely lost.

For example, we know that the moon isn't made of cheese. We know that the earth's round, that the sun's hot, that Jim Davidson is an offensive tosser. Obviously. So we can worry about our own lives, safe in the knowledge that there are some rules that just aren't going to be broken. And, if some people make it their business to go around claiming that the moon is made of cheese, we can be pretty damn sure of ourselves, snort derisively at their idiotic delusions and get on with whatever it was we were doing.

But if it suddenly turns out that the moon really is made of cheese, then we're in a hell of a mess....

So, Dominic Foley has just scored for Watford. A last gasp winner, after only six minutes on the pitch. Not a tap-in or a lucky deflection or a laughable goalkeeping error or a mis-hit cross, but an authentic, stunning, brilliant goal. A goal that I keep replaying in my mind, savouring it each time. A goal that was enough to have us singing his name all the way back to Brighton. And I'm no longer sure that the moon isn't made of cheese.

It's not a matter of jumping on the Foley bandwagon, more of being flattened by it. Of course, he's always shown flashes of real skill...but skill needs to be applied to something useful, otherwise it's irrelevant and pointless and slightly irritating, like bloody juggling. And Dominic Foley has, until Saturday, been irrelevant and pointless and slightly irritating. Something to laugh about and to rely upon, snorting derisively when anyone attempts to argue.

Obviously, it would take something pretty special to blow all this certainty out of the water. But, even aside from the goal, Foley was something pretty special on Saturday. That his substitution was forced upon us by injury doesn't alter the fact that he was exactly what we needed, supplying a bit of guile and ingenuity to a team that showed no sign of breaking the stalemate as time ticked away. I've commented before that he always seems to look like a youngster making a debut. This time, it was a sensational debut.

In truth, we were lucky once again. While this was a performance that improved on last week and offered a reasonable case for a share of the points, it still left much to be desired. For long periods, particularly after Nordin Wooter had departed, we were a side without any inspiration and it was a game that appeared destined to end goalless.

That was a shame, because the opening exchanges promised much. From the third minute, when Wooter received a gigantic cross-field pass and whipped in an instant cross towards Tommy Mooney, there were chances at both ends. Creatively, there was only one worthwhile tactic for the Hornets and that was to get the ball to Wooter as often and as early as possible. He was in absolutely inspired form and a joy to watch, controlling the passes that were blasted at him with nonchalant grace and then ripping eagerly towards the penalty area. Although Miller saved comfortably from his speculative twenty-five yard drive after six minutes, the Barnsley keeper, warmly welcomed upon his return to Vicarage Road, was fully extended by Tommy Smith's shot on the turn shortly afterwards and did well to save with his legs.

Yet there were already signs that the points couldn't be taken for granted. Wooter's long range shot had come on the break after Barnsley had so nearly taken the lead, only denied by two heroic blocks by Paul Robinson as first Moses and then Shipperley looked set to score. Defensively, we're currently grateful for the extra time offered by strikers at this level, allowing situations to be rescued, as well as their frequent failure to take opportunities.

If the first ten minutes were pretty lively, then it was all downhill from there. The gaps between chances started to widen. It was a game that needed a goal to spark it into life again...and it didn't get one, mainly thanks to some extremely wayward finishing. Perhaps Neil Cox can be forgiven, although he headed a Wooter corner wide when he really ought to have done better. Watching Shipperley head Ward's cross clumsily over from ten yards, however, was enough to make you wonder why he was once so highly rated. That opportunity followed an extraordinary moment of madness from Robert Page - a diving header to clear a cross from around the penalty spot that went very pear-shaped and briefly looked as if it was headed for the top corner. Perhaps our defenders ought to be persuaded to call a halt to the "best own goal of the season" competition before it gets out of hand.

Barnsley grew stronger as the half went on, with only the marvellous Wooter offering much that looked like it might penetrate their defences. We were at full stretch on too many occasions, such as when Robinson was caught out of position after a foray upfield. Everyone cheered him on as he chased all the way through to put Miller under pressure as he dealt with a backpass...but, as Barnsley broke quickly to take advantage of the space, he needed the impressive Cox to rescue him by making Jones rush his finish and head tamely at Espen Baardsen.

By half-time, the visitors should've been ahead. Although Smith shot at Miller from the edge of the box, the tide had definitely turned. After a cross was indecisively cleared, Jones blasted in a shot that forced Baardsen into a fine (and possibly painful) parry at his near post. From the resulting corner, Shipperley again rose unmarked and only the presence of Clint Easton on the line kept the ball out - in all honesty, though, you'd expect a centre forward to score with a free header from five yards.

Finally, a moment of comedy and a moment of controversy. First, comedy as we were reminded of dear ol' Kev's somewhat erratic kicking. Wandering out to the side of his goal to boot clear, he managed to mis-kick the ball straight to Wooter on the edge of the box. Unfortunately (or, for Miller, very fortunately), the whole thing was too much of a surprise for the Dutchman and, instead of ending up in an unguarded net, the ball rebounded back to the keeper. Then, controversy as Smith showed superb determination to resist two hefty barges from a defender out on the right before turning into the area and falling under challenge. No particular opinion here, I'm afraid - I'll be sensible and merely comment that the referee was better placed to make a judgement than anyone in the Rookery.

Although we hoped for better from the second half, fearing that the game was sliding away from us, we were to be severely disappointed. The withdrawal of Wooter was critical - it removed our only genuine wide player, leaving Smith as a very makeshift winger, and also our main source of attacking inspiration. As a consequence, we were increasingly reliant on a central midfield that was barely holding its own, with Allan Nielsen frantically chasing shadows and Steve Palmer concentrating on his own caretaking duties. Plenty of possession, sure...but very little controlled possession in areas of the field that actually mattered.

So, Easton - who had a purposeful and effective game on the left and, on the evidence of the two games so far, deserves to be in the side ahead of David Perpetuini - sent in a looping half-volley that only momentarily threatened to catch Miller off his line. At the Vic Road end, Shipperley looked rather better with the ball at his feet but couldn't beat Baardsen after a purposeful run.

Things began to liven up a little as Robinson completely misjudged a long ball and Jones sprinted away towards goal before shooting, rather hastily and wastefully, just wide. There was some genuine excitement as Nielsen at last became involved, getting to the by-line and pulling back a cross. Mooney headed it down, Smith's close range shot was blocked by Miller and Ngonge failed to get a clear sight of goal in the resulting scramble. For the first time, the volume levels in the Rookery were comparable to last season as the fans attempted to raise the team. Mind you, the atmosphere would've been killed entirely if Dyer hadn't headed Barnard's cross over within a minute of coming on as substitute. Having watched opponents bury chances like that for nine months, it's something of a joy to watch the ball clatter into the seats again and again.

It really started to drag in the middle of the half. Barnsley were content to hit us on the break, we were bashing the ball about in no particular direction. Tommy Smith went on an elaborate run from his ill-fitting right wing position, looked for support around the edge of the area and, finding none, shot weakly at Miller instead. Barnard thumped in a drive from thirty yards that had Baardsen in a bit of a flap until it screamed over the bar, then curled in a less impressive free kick. Ngonge rampaged forward just as he had at Huddersfield yet, on this occasion, preferred to shoot from about fifty yards in preference to passing to Smith, much to the frustration of all. Cox, who managed to stride forward frequently without ever appearing to neglect his defensive duties, drove over from distance. Ward (theirs) sliced wide from outside the area. Very ordinary First Division fare, with neither side putting a convincing case for three points.

Perhaps, then, it was a game that might be settled by a refereeing decision? In fact, Mr Crick got one right and one wrong. The one that he got right earned him bucketloads of abuse from the Rookery as Michel Ngonge tussled with two defenders, with lots of sixes and half-a-dozens and all that, and tumbled theatrically to the ground. Penalty, my arse. The one that he got wrong earned him no abuse whatsoever because nobody, Crick included, appeared to notice the gigantic tug on Darren Ward's shirt as a corner came in. While I'm certainly not in favour of dishing out spot-kicks for every bit of contact at corners, Ward was denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.

We were going nowhere. People started to think about leaving early to avoid the crowds, about what to do for the rest of the evening, about anything other than the football. As two years ago, the nil-nil draw really wasn't as atrocious as it might have appeared...but it wasn't what we wanted either.

And then Dominic Foley arrived. Within a minute, he'd put sufficient pressure on a defender to force an error, then flicked the ball over his head and blasted it at Miller's near post. Sure, he was unlikely to beat the keeper from such a tight angle and he should've pulled it back for Mooney...but since when have we started complaining about strikers who shoot on sight? It's what they do, it's why they're not midfielders or defenders or goalkeepers. Hell, we moan often enough when people don't shoot....

Two minutes later, Foley's tidy lay-off set up Nielsen for a rasping drive from twenty-five yards and Miller saved well at full stretch, although the linesman's flag would've cut our celebrations short anyway. Time was up and our frustration was complete as Nielsen again smacked a shot towards goal, only to find it blocked by a crowd of players on the edge of the area....

...But our disappointment turned to amazement and then absolute joy as the ball suddenly appeared from behind that crowd of players, curling gently and sweetly inside the post. Like all of us, Miller saw it too late to do anything but watch. As the ball settled in the net and the ground erupted, Foley emerged from the same crowd of players to claim the credit. It was a goal worthy of winning any match, and worthy of winning this one five times over. An exceptional piece of opportunism.

The feeling of utter disbelief lasted until the final whistle and through the victory celebrations. It clouded everything on the walk up Occupation Road and back to the pub. It was still there when I woke up on Sunday morning with a thumping hangover.

For me, Saturday was the start of the season. Huddersfield was fun...but, somehow, it felt distant. This, on the other hand, was the genuine article. After all, football doesn't have to make sense, does it?

Dominic Foley is a genius. The moon is made of cheese.