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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 16/03/04, 7.45pm
Derby County
Bring it on!
By Dave Messenger

The day got off to a bizarre start. Frankly, the last thing you expect while sitting at work is an e-mail from a mate asking exactly when you became best mates with Graham Simpson. The truth of the matter is that I wrote my sabre-rattling "Bring it on" editorial some weeks back. When I found out that Watford's Chairman had picked it out and quoted it in his programme notes, I wondered if I still felt the same. Pre-match discussions revolved around a general feeling that the time for recriminations is over and that the time has come to get behind the team and when "my new best mate" strode out onto the pitch to whip up the crowd, I knew I did. Bring it on? Bloody right. Watch out, Derby....

There was just one change from Saturday's poor showing against Sheffield United, with Lloyd Doyley making way for Lee Cook. There was also a welcome move back to 4-4-2 formation, with Devlin moved back to his best position on the right at last. For those of us still able to look past our perilous league position and see a decent manager struggling to turn this sow's ear of a squad into something resembling a silk purse, this was the proof we were looking for to suggest that the constant carping on various message boards about Ray Lewington's supposed tactical naivety was wide of the mark.

Both sides started the match brightly. Watford forced an early corner and created some pressure, while a Jerel Ifil slip in the centre circle sent the still-irritating-after-all-these-years Paul Peschisolido sprinting away. Happily, Ifil made up for his blunder and put the Canadian short-arse off his shot. Worse was to follow, though, as a ninth minute Derby corner sat up invitingly for the young defender to clear, but a great big whiffer of an air-kick presented Pesky-Dildo with an easy tap-in. Not a good start.

Another of the so-called truths about Ray Lewington is that he can't motivate the team. If that were true, the blow of conceding a soft goal early on would have set us up for a repeat of Saturday's display. Not a bit of it here. There was no rolling over on the pitch and, better still, no despondency in the home stands as the crowd willed Watford back into the game. Bring it on indeed. Within minutes, Scott Fitzgerald, who epitomised the spirit throughout the evening, charged down a clearance from former CYHSYF FC goalkeeper Lee Grant and with a little more luck could have been left with a simple tap-in. Two minutes later, Grant tipped a Heidar Helguson header over the bar from a deep Cook cross.

On nineteen minutes, Devlin burst down the right wing and just as he seemed to be preparing a cross, a well-timed tackle from Paul Boertien halted his run. From the resulting throw, Devlin fed Cook who skewed a shot in from just inside the box that rattled the crossbar. Helguson reacted first and tapped the loose ball into the unguarded net. The Icelandic international has been made something of a scapegoat in some quarters since returning from suspension, but the goal capped a welcome return to form and the relief in the home stands was clear for all to see.

The noisy crowd continued to spur Watford on and as the half drew to a close, two excellent chances came and went. First, Cook set off on a dazzling run which was brought to an end by a last ditch tackle by Mawene, just as the young winger looked set to cross to an unmarked Devlin. Then Paul Mayo, making his third start in a hectic week for the new boy, slung in a cross which Fitzgerald headed over, despite Helguson looking better placed to take advantage.

The second half picked up where the first half finished, with the Hornets in the ascendancy. Devlin might have had a penalty having been brought down by Boertien, but better was to follow on fifty-two minutes. Helguson flicked on a long ball from stand in skipper Neal Ardley, who also defied his critics with a determined display at right back. Gavin Mahon picked up the flick and bulldozed his way into the box, where he applied a neat finish to give the Hornets the lead. Get in there. Yes, Yes and YES!

Once in front, Watford gave possibly their best attacking display of the season and poured forward looking for a third, driven on by a full-blooded, committed midfield display from Mahon and a revitalised Micah Hyde. Four minutes after the goal, Helguson headed over and six minutes later, the same player cut inside and forced Grant into a diving save. Increasingly, it was the young keeper who stood between Derby and a proper hiding. He saved his best for the sixty-ninth minute as he tipped a powerful, dipping twenty-five yard effort from Fitzgerald round his post.

As the game wore on, thoughts of previous defensive lapses started to come to mind and the nerves increased among some of the home supporters. Happily, it didn't show so much on the pitch. After all that hard work, there seemed to be a more steely resolve from Watford than of late. That didn't stop a half-cleared Derby corner causing some havoc, and Pidgeley made a save from Pisspotolido. It was still the Golden Boys who looked more likely to score and Devlin forced another great stop from Grant with a stinging drive.

The tension increased as the game wore on but in reality, Derby weren't creating clear chances and, led by a typically bullish Sean Dyche, the Watford back four held firm. Only a late shot by Leon Osman caused any worry, but Pidgeley was equal to the task. Four minutes injury time didn't help the nerves at all, but Watford held out for a vital three points and with results elsewhere going in our favour, moved up the table to sixteenth. Sweet!

In the pub after the game, the subject quickly turned to my part in proceedings. I'm not nearly big-headed enough to claim that the players or fans took any notice of my words, but there was certainly an aura about the place. Forget about the wailing and gnashing of teeth about why we're in the position we're in, when everyone pulls together on and off the pitch, good things will happen. Our manager may not be perfect, our team isn't and we supporters certainly aren't. It shouldn't take Graham Simpson starting songs with Ocean at the front of the Rookery to get us all going. Do us fans take the same attitude we showed throughout this game to Ipswich on Saturday and hope the team does the same? Too bloody right we do.

Bring it on.