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95/96: Reports:

Endsleigh League Division 1, 24/2/96
Watford 2(2)
Ipswich Town 3(0)
Team: Miller 4, Gibbs 4, Barnes 3, Hessenthaler 3, Holdsworth 3, Millen 3, Penrice 3, *Palmer 4*, White 4, Mooney 3, Phillips 4
Subs: Ramage (for Mooney) 1, Bazeley (for Penrice) 2, Foster
Scorers: White, Palmer
A game of two halves
Report by Ian Grant

I'm not a great fan of nostalgia. Bearing in mind that I'd rather have my teeth extracted with pliers than listen to Oasis re-hashing the Beatles again (because they don't have the imagination or the courage to thrill us with fresh revelations), any attempt to relive past glories at Watford won't gain my support. I don't believe for a moment that Graham Taylor is interested in a cosy job at his old club - the fans, on the other hand, must be prepared to forget Taylor's history. This must be a fresh start.

So, another week, another manager, another defeat. Seven points adrift at the bottom. Hell, at least we're in no doubt as to the difficulty of the task ahead. If Taylor and Blissett were at all puzzled about the reasons behind the current crisis, they ought to have a fairly clear idea by now.

The first half was superb, but miracles don't always last for 90 minutes. Confidence is the key - we've proved that we're capable of creating chances and scoring goals, yet that promise is worth nothing if we haven't got the belief required to hang on to a lead. Time is running out.

Even the most hard-hearted fan would've felt a shiver down the spine when Graham Taylor emerged from the tunnel, accompanied by Kenny Jackett and Luther Blissett. But, despite the increased attendance, the fans were strangely quiet after the early excitement - now that there's unity among the supporters, we must learn to get behind the team.

In my report for the Ipswich away game earlier in the season, I claimed that Ipswich were a Premiership side in waiting - if they could sort out their defence. Nothing's changed. The alarm bells were ringing for us virtually from the start - Mathie somehow managed to screw his shot wide with Miller helpless and the defence on holiday. That appalling start to every game is, of course, traditional - except that the opposition usually score.

What we aren't used to seeing is a Watford side that looks like scoring with every attack. That might be something to do with Ipswich's clueless defending, but we did go forward with determination and imagination. With the appearance of two genuine full-backs in the shape of Barnes and Gibbs, and with Mooney and Penrice finding space on the wings, this was good stuff.

After that Mathie miss, we murdered Ipswich. Devon White had a goal ruled out (Phillips was caught offside and the flag was up long before he crossed the ball in) but then opened his Watford account after 21 minutes. A scramble in the box ended in a scuffed clearance, Phillips made room for himself and crossed - Millen seemed to get a touch, as did White but quite possibly it missed both of them. Who cares? Kate does - she had money on Millen.

Just what we wanted and there was more to follow. Devon White had another disallowed - this time for a foul on the keeper - and Super Kev hit the bar after White had won the ball from the keeper (Kev really should have scored). During this time, White was excellent, all arms and legs flailing everywhere as he linked the forward play together by holding the ball up and then getting in the box for the resulting cross.

At the end of the half, we got a deserved second. Steve Palmer, involved in so much (yet receiving so little praise), was fouled on the edge of the box. Mooney thumped the free kick through a gap in the chaotic Ipswich wall - the keeper couldn't hold it and Palmer stabbed in the rebound. The icing on the cake of a superb first half performance, full of aggressive, incisive attacking (from Ipswich as well - but their efforts were nullified by determined defending).

There was a feeling of disbelief at half-time - the Watford fans were fully aware that, even with a two goal lead, we can take nothing for granted. We were right. After the break, Ipswich came out in search of an early goal and we couldn't survive the onslaught.

The tactic appeared to be to give the ball to Gus Uhlenbeek at every opportunity and let him run at David Barnes - it took three minutes to work. Barnes had looked assured in the first half but he couldn't find a way to stop Uhlenbeek turning to fire the ball past Miller. It was a fine run and finish.

Suddenly, Ipswich's tails were up and we were looking very shaky. Miller did well to get a hand to the ball as Mathie attempted to go past him for a shot at the unguarded net. But all our desperate defending couldn't prevent the inevitable. Again it was Uhlenbeek who caused the problems, floating in the cross for Mathie to head home at the far post.

We rallied briefly - Phillips had a great chance with a free header, sadly the keeper got his body in the way. That was our only meaningful attack in the second half - things weren't helped by the addition of Ramage, who looked typically uninterested. At one stage, he gestured to the fans for more noise - fair enough, but we're not the only ones who could try harder. If Ramage persists in his arrogant carelessness, he'll be on his way out - Graham Taylor does not suffer fools (Phil Neal excepted).

It was no surprise when Ipswich scored the winner - Mathie beat Miller at his near post with a low shot - and there was no way back. The heart-breaking conclusion to a truly ridiculous game - such was the domination by Watford in the first half and Ipswich in the second that the Vic Road Enders hardly saw the ball in the entire game.

Clearly, the new regime has yet to make a mark on the playing style of the side - the first half was Roeder's passing football played with more confidence and more purpose; the second was familiar enough. It could have been two different teams out there in yellow shirts. So we can't draw any conclusions.

Seventeen games and fifty-one points left to play for. No worries, then...