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Nationwide Division One, 24/10/00
Bolton Wanderers
By Olly Du Croz

Celebrations when a penalty is given by the referee make me really nervous. It's obvious that fans are delighted their team has such a golden opportunity to score, and I know probably about eight out of ten penalties result in goals, but I always fear the worst.

Last night I wasn't nervous though, and it's all down to one reason: Tommy Mooney. The man is a living legend who will never be forgotten at the Vic - and he inspires confidence in all those around him.

If there is one man I would have put my house on to bury the goal that put us top of the league (and on my birthday - what a present!), it is him. A textbook finish from the spot, low to the keeper's left, sending Jaaskelainen the wrong way and the Rookery crazy.

Did we deserve it? Yes, of course we did. You don't go on a thirteen game unbeaten run and not deserve it. Perhaps Bolton were marginally better than us (especially in the first half) but last night was a time for grinding three points out of what was a very tough fixture.

This also made up for the outrageously one-sided 0-0 against Gillingham seven days earlier, and the only consolation for fans who missed last night's match is that we played much better last week, even if the results don't make it look that way.

We also deserved the penalty, and thankfully the referee saw it after denying us one earlier in the second half when Wooter went sprawling in the box under a clumsy challenge.

Matches against Bolton always seem like a big games - especially this season following the Wembley experience in '99 - but I have always seen them as a bit of a soft touch. The expectation at that club must be quite intense, or maybe it's just that all the players they sign crumble under the slightest bit of pressure, as seen by Dean Holdsworth's miss at Wembley last season as well as the many play-off failures in recent years.

The Watford fans gave a brief reminder to Bolton's measly posse of away supporters that the score on 31st May 1999 had been 2-0, but it is an indication of how the club has moved on since then that once we kicked off the references to that game were forgotten. Everyone knew this was a vital three points we were playing for, not a night for nostalgia that could distract from our super start to the season. There would be time for that later.

I say a super "start" to the season, but thirteen games in and still without defeat, we're getting close to the middle part of the season. Most Watford fans were, like me, quietly optimistic before the season began, but the record so far is surely beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

All teams, including us, will go on a bad run at some stage during the season (as Fulham are demonstrating to a minor extent at the moment). We just have to hope ours won't last too long, and that it doesn't happen for a few games yet. We're enjoying this and nobody wants it to end yet, least of all the players.

Some of the following details may be a bit sketchy due to my hatred of notepads at football matches. Sorry, but you'll have to rely on my memory and some facts from the morning papers! Bolton's most dangerous moments came through the monstrous striker Ricketts and Gardner's pace down their left wing. One header from Ricketts following a corner was drifting towards the far post when it found the alert Allan Nielsen waiting on the line to head it away.

The three man midfield of Palmer, Hyde and Nielsen was overrun by Bolton's four (and sometimes five) men up against them in the first period. Bolton came to do what Gillingham did a week ago, but they did it better and killed off most of our threatening moves before they even got going. Gifton had Fish up his arse (excuse the innuendo) every time the ball came anywhere near him, while both Helguson and Smith tended to play too wide so there was little support for Gifton to use on too many occasions.

Something had to change, and GT waved his magic wand at half-time with great success. Mooney and Wooter on for Smith and Helguson. The two players coming on both had points to prove: Wooter obviously hates sitting on the bench and Mooney had to re-establish himself in the team after we stayed unbeaten in his three-game absence.

Wooter transformed the tone of the game, taking on Bolton's left-back on at every opportunity and showing us what we all know he is capable of - scaring the life out of opposing defenders. However, after he was brought down inside the box midway through the second half, he drifted out of the game and ended up running down too many blind alleys or trying to run through people than round them. That's the price we have to pay for genius - it only comes in flashes - but we all know that real class shines through in the end.

As Wooter faded out of the game, Mooney came into it more and more. Most of the balls out of defence were angled towards our left wing, but the away defence still held firm.

Allan Smart's introduction for the last ten minutes was a great boost to replace the flagging Noel-Williams, whose lazy style ended up showing that he was just knackered, with no bursts of inspiration left to come from his tired legs.

The hand ball was, by all accounts, a definite penalty, even though I didn't see it well enough myself at the time. Mooney always looked like he was going to score, holding on to the ball and only beginning his preparations once the Bolton protests had died down.

One glorious kick later - it really was a top class penalty - and Vicarage Road erupted, leaving us with just a few minutes to hold on. Bolton could have (reportedly) had a penalty a minute or so later, when Darren Ward handled inside the box. The referee didn't give it, which is all that matters now.

News had already filtered through that Preston had completed a surprise win at Fulham, so for the last few minutes we all knew what it would mean if we held on. As the scoreline suggests, we did.

Top of the league, unbeaten, with players coming back from injury as well. Things really are looking up.

Top of the league. It may not last long, so let's enjoy it while it lasts.

Top of the league!