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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/04/04, 7.45pm
Two halves
By Richard Walker

Being the club's Press Officer, as well as a die-hard fan, does have its disadvantages....

You can't mutter to yourself "For f***'s sake 'Orns, let's step it up a bit!" in the press box - sandwiched between extremely partisan home supporters - in the first-half of an away game when things ain't going too well at all.

You can't get too annoyed at half-time - stewing over the suggestion (by actions) of another away defeat - because there's the fraternising with the great, the good and the gory of the national press to attend to.

You can't even stand up, jump around while shouting "Yeeeessss! Get in there! Get right in there! Yeeessss! F***ing yeeeesssss!" when one of your team's players hits a world-class goal to win the game.

Oh no, these particular pleasures at The New Den were reserved exclusively for the travelling faithful high up behind one of the goals in the soulless chasm of a ground that is Millwall's charmless replacement to the ever-loveable Cold Blow Lane.

Marking the Watford players is a hard enough job after this one - no, not because I'm a club employee who should give everyone five and sing 'Hallelujah' for eleven separate verses, but because this, my fellow Golden Boys, was the original 'Game of Two Halves'.

How the hell can you say Lee Cook had a good game? Before half-time, he looked like he'd stumbled across a game of professional football in south London having just jumped off his bike and walked across the park after school. Afterwards, he was a whirling dervish, a mass of messy hair, long sleeves, a familiar gait and, for one sublime moment, a shot which deserved a better stage than to have Ray Wilkins in the audience.

And how about Gavin Mahon? Nowhere before the break, everywhere after the break. Paul Mayo? Middle of the Third Division first-half, top of the First Division second-half. Sean Dyche, Micah Hyde, the list goes on. Players that couldn't see a simple pass in the first forty-five minutes couldn't help but play one every time they had the ball in the second forty-five minutes.

This match was everything Watford has been this season; frustrating, ineffective, lacklustre and shoddy through to thrilling, purposeful, incisive and destructive. These are the games that give us the reason to say we're always going to the next match. Who bloody knows what's round the next corner? That's the sheer beauty of this game and this particular Tuesday in the middle of the borough of Lewisham proved once again that Division One is just ever so unpredictable - rock on, I say, give me this nonsense over the Premiership every time.

Details as I recall them about the match, then:

A bright start by Millwall. Yes, even when we're rubbish we tend to be brilliant for the first two or three minutes - sometimes like the warm-up act at a comedy gig, you know.

We should've been two or three behind within half an hour. The fact we weren't is because Danny Dichio, who we stood and watch score his fifteenth-minute header from a Peter Sweeney-Nick Chadwick free-kick combination, isn't very good at scoring goals. He wasn't the only culprit but, to be fair to them, Paul Ifill and Tim Cahill looked inventive, creative and, backed up by Dennis Wise at the foot of the midfield diamond, foraged forward usefully but, ultimately, without reward.

If those in the away end felt anything like me at half-time, then there would have been a mass burning desire to check for train times some way short of half past nine, ask if coach drivers minded turning the keys in the ignition or simply accepting that it was 'one of those games'.

Oh yes, it was 'one of the games' all right, the sort you don't forget for a while and, because you're in the minority amongst Hornets' fans having been to the ground, the sort you end up explaining several times in the office the next day to ensure you've transferred the full flavour of the quite extraordinary fight-back you witnessed after the half-time tea cups had been liberally dispatched around the dressing-room.

To say Watford were a different side after the break (is there another way of saying this phrase - help!) is a understatement not worthy of the time it just took me to write that sentence.

The wholesale change in attitude, commitment, drive, work-ethic was as tangible as it was enjoyable. This was a team that was about to show it positively enjoys coming from behind these days. Is it as if we invite this first goal just to test our new-found character and resolve?

Whatever, the equaliser arrived seven minutes...altogether now...after the break (!) when Bruce Dyer and Darren Ward arrived at the same place to ensure, in equal measure it appeared, that Paul Devlin's nod back across from Cook's cross ended in Andy Marshall's net.

Details are details, Watford just weren't going to be denied in as good a forty-five minutes of football away from The Vic that I can recall in a non-promotion season - that's the fairest way I can think to describe it.

The winner arrived - and in some style. Dyer had threatened to grab all the headlines with a superb glancing header after Mahon had dismissed Wise from his presence but it was Cooky who took the plaudits with a stunning drive from the area's edge. Having accepted with quick feet Hameur Bouazza's lay-off from Dyer's flick-on, much like his goal at Burnley he toed the ball outside the reach of the right-back before pinging a shot across Marshall before the keeper had a chance to make a realistic attempt at a save.

Oh yes.

Let me know if I missed an incident after this but I spent the next twenty minutes rejoicing, both in mind and in very low decibel voice, just how good a goal that was.

Joyous scenes in the stand - and on the pitch as a many-tonned weight seemed to lift from the shoulders of players and football staff alike - followed the final whistle.

Safety, at last. Now we can all enjoy the rest of the season.