By Pete Fincham
Before I start, I would like to make it clear that as someone who went to the match this afternoon, I will not take kindly to people questioning the factual parts to the report. By that I mean, if anyone sends me an e-mail starting "I watched the match on the TV, and what actually happened was..." the reply will be to the point and without humour.
The day started badly. Finding my car outside the flat in a state of some disrepair, caused by another car whose owner was not someone to leave a written calling card, did not put me in the best of moods as you could well imagine. It took a hammer and a lot of aggression to remove the bumper, but I digress. For a fantastic three points away from home was the only tonic to my mid-morning angst, and I got my tonic!
This was not the greatest game you could have seen; nor will it live in the memory like a Peterborough in '94 for classic moments. But it was a vitally important win that proved Watford's recently improved form was not just another glitch in the otherwise horrendous inconsistencies of this interesting season. While being widely predicted, a defeat would certainly not have been welcome to a team that had not scored in three matches away from home, languishing in a pre-match position of sixteenth place.
Rupe offered the opinion midway through the quiet first half that: "We never get it right at this club! We either have shit forwards and a great defence, or we have forwards who score and defenders who are jokers". In truth, except for brief spells of form, it is hard to disagree with him in recent years.
However, just maybe we are finding the equilibrium that has eluded Vialli's Watford so far. This was a hard-fought performance, but one in which the three points that elevate Watford to twelfth in the table were thoroughly deserved.
Coventry started the better, with the impressive Chippo causing problems for the Watford defence immediately. His jinking runs ensured that all the Watford back four, and keeper Chamberlain, had to be on their toes, and had Vega not cleared a Lee Hughes effort off the line in the opening minutes, the result could have been so different. After Chippo had drawn two defenders, Chamberlain saved well, but pushed the ball into the path of Hughes. But despite netting the ball, Hughes' effort was ruled out for offside as Chamberlain recorded the first save of what proved to be the match-winning performance.
A blistering Robinson volley was the only Watford attempt on goal worthy of note in what was a disappointing first half attacking performance. But, at the other end, Chamberlain continued to produce a dominating performance between the posts in what will definitely be a contender for "Performance of the Season" in April. Slowly, the confidence of recent matches seemed to be coming back to the defence.
Referee Rennie did his very best to disrupt proceedings on as many occasions as possible, and moments after the break booked Helguson for a nothing challenge on Konjic, and in total produced five yellow cards in a game which rarely saw a bad challenge.
Another Chamberlain save, this time from Delornge, kept the score at 0-0, but the introduction of GNW for a disappointing Gayle proved decisive in the improvement up front. His first contribution was to turn and shoot from inside the box, and his strength was to add significant value to the team for the remaining period of the game. On 72 minutes, a mazey Tommy Smith run into the box was crudely interrupted by Richard Shaw. While no-one can have any sympathy for the former Palace defender, simply because he is a former Palace defender, it was a penalty decision that could have gone either way. However, Stephen Glass took the kick with relish, and an excellent penalty ended up to Goram's left.
From the restart, Coventry tried to force the equaliser, but again Chamberlain was the hero. Firstly the keeper saved from Hughes, and then Vega put his big frame in the way of the Safri follow up. Moments later, Hughes was foiled by the legs of Chamberlain, and as time was running out, Robinson cleared by frantically throwing himself at another Coventry effort.
Having broken from defence, the ball went through at least five Watford players, and as Helguson took the ball to the edge of the box, the lay back from the Icelandic striker was perfectly into Hyde's path and Watford led 2-0. Except that it was not Hyde. Virtually every person around me thought the same thing. Only when we were several miles down the M40, and after three phone calls to friends informing them of the scorers, did we find out that it was indeed Glass who scored his and Watford's second of the afternoon. Despite the TV, radio and Internet confirming otherwise, I still swear I saw Hyde strike the ball!
So three points.
Four league games without conceding a goal.
The welcome sight of Watford at "the bottom of the first page of the Ceefax table, rather than at the top of the second page" - Vialli on the 6th December at the shareholders meeting.
A cup quarter final against a team already beaten 3-1 this season.
A Third Round FA Cup home tie against our local rivals (Arsenal for those who don't know!).
Things are looking up!