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Nationwide Division One, 17/4/01
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dreaming on
By Olly Du Croz

I have been drafting an obituary for Watford's season in my head for several weeks now. It's almost getting to the stage where a defeat to stop the constant analysis of the Division One table would be preferable to prolonging the agony.

And it nearly was all over. Ninety-plus minutes gone and at 2-2 we would have been six points off the playoff places with just four games to go. Even a win against Preston on Sunday would have given us only slight hope in that situation.

The dreams could have been finished and the rest of the season could have been a more peaceful rest, preparing us for the departure of GT, but that's not the Watford way. No, the players obviously want us to sweat it out a bit longer.

Last night it all seemed worth it, though, as after seeing us surrender a two-goal lead against ten men the win was sweeter than anyone could have imagined. And there's always the chance that all the agony could turn to ecstasy in Cardiff.

So the dream lives on. Anything less than three points would have accounted for the end of our season's hopes once and for all. We seem to have been living on the "one more defeat and we're out of it" line for too long as all those above us have contrived to slip up almost as regularly as our Golden Boys.

It was always going to be a strange night from the moment Robert Page almost slid the ball into his own net within seconds from kick-off with an ugly lunge trying to defend a cross. However, as is our wont this season, we soon dispelled any doubts with Mooney's far more elegant lunge at the far post to turn Smith's cross into the net to score with probably our first attack. Gifton showed some cleverness in the build up with a measured header allowing Smith to race unchallenged towards the Wolves area. The young striker then squared the ball perfectly into the path of our top scorer for his 22nd of a remarkable season.

Mooney's achievements should not be underestimated. Any good striker judges himself on the twenty-goal marker, and at Watford we have been lacking a consistent, injury-free goalscorer for far too long. I think Paul Furlong was the last player we had to reach that target about seven years ago (or that's what I read somewhere recently), although Gifton would probably had reached that had he not been injured in January of our 1998/9 promotion season.

The second goal showed everything that is great about Tommy Smith. He scared the life out of the Wolves defenders with a run straight at the heart of the penalty area and placed a shot just inside the post with his left foot. This man has improved beyond belief in the past twelve months since showing his ability at the back end of last season and it has to be a two-horse race between the two Tommys for player of the season.

After our two early goals, there was almost a sense of foreboding as the all-too-familiar "sitting on the lead" (a phrase that has haunted this team throughout the season) came into play. Wolves going down to ten men when Connelly was sent off trying to prevent the effervescent Smith charging at goal once again should have settled all our nerves. But that wouldn't have been Watford so we made even harder work for ourselves by forgetting how to run with, control and pass a football for the rest of the game. Oh, what a joy it was to behold!

As we looked like just about holding on until the break, Robbo did the stupidest thing by tugging back a Wolves player running into the area. Why our well-disciplined (?!?) left-back didn't just leave him alone nobody will ever know, but the most obvious of decisions was given and Ndah easily out-witted Chamberlain for a vital goal.

Robbo hardly had the best game of his career, with several of his passes not even threatening to reach their intended targets, but some of the abuse that was handed out from certain members of the Rookery was an embarrassment to hear. Whatever the arguments about paying for the privilege to say what you like in the stand may be, some of the language from those obviously tanked up with a few pre-match bevvies was disgraceful. I just wish that someone with more balls than myself had told the offending people to shut up.

We did create sporadic chances in the second half, Nielsen (whose touch deteriorated from superb to dismal during the game) hitting the woodwork with an improvised over-head kick that could have settled all our nerves.

Wolves were under the cosh for long periods, but let's remember that we had one more player than them for over an hour of play and should have punished them far earlier that we did. Giving the opposition a chance - even feeling sorry for them - may well be an endearing quality in village cricket on Sunday afternoons, but there is no place for such kind-heartedness in the world of professional football.

Helguson's last minute winner was probably the simplest goal of his career - walking the ball in from a yard out after Smith's perfect cross - but it was amazing to see how simple goal-scoring can be after seventy-five minutes of frustration and dreadful defending had let Wolves back into the game.

The chants rang out after the final whistle for Mooney, but he was not the only hero of the night with Smith scoring one and setting up both the others to back up a superb display with some more than half-decent stats.

Of course, in terms of playoff qualification it will all mean nothing if we lose to Preston (this, in many ways, was our semi-final to reach the possible cup final at the weekend), but it supplied us with another reminder of what it is to be a Watford fan: It won't be pretty all the time - and we certainly won't make it look easy - but it ain't half worth it in the end.