It hasn't sunk in yet
Report by Ian Grant
I guess I don't need to tell you lot what this means. The season's post-mortem can wait for the moment, at least until I've come to terms with what's happened, but life must go on. So...deep breath...here's the match report...
This should have been a special day, regardless of the outcome. With the Vic packed out for the first time since the new stands were built, the atmosphere ought to have been intense. Sadly, like the performance, it just didn't happen. The tension of the occasion didn't help, but the ticket allocation made more of a difference - with a huge and sudden rush of demand, many of our loyal (and vocal) fans were forced out of the Vic Road end into the lower Rous stand. The result was that, after an amazing balloon and confetti welcome for the team, it all went horribly quiet. Too many spectators, not enough supporters. It really is in the club's interest to ensure that the dedicated fans get priority for games like this. See also Wake up Endsleigh!
The game, like the end result, was a massive anticlimax. Both teams appeared crippled by anxiety, with every player wanting to avoid making the crucial mistake that would decide the fate of both clubs. It made for a scrappy match in which both defences were very much on top. In the end, Leicester, with that much-hated but brilliant war-horse Claridge up front, were just a little too strong for us.
Leicester looked the more threatening side in the first half, but all the chances fell to Watford players and we should have been ahead at the break. In a game that lacked enterprise, it was inevitable that we would look to Tommy Mooney for the spark of inspiration. It was Mooney who created the early opportunities - crossing for Devon White to flick in a shot at the near post that the keeper saved, then rampaging past defenders and shooting wide.
This was very much against the run of play, yet our defence refused to allow Leicester a clear sight of goal. Kevin Miller claimed the ball whenever necessary, but, for the most part, Steve Palmer and Robert Page handled everything that was thrown at them.
It was Palmer, utterly magnificent again and cruelly underrated as a creative player, who set up the first (and our only) real match-winning chance just before half-time. Palmer brought the ball out of defence and slid a pass through to Craig Ramage. We held our breath as Rams went into the box and, with the goal at his mercy, lifted the ball over the bar. An unforgivable miss.
Half-time brought the news that the other games were going against us, making our survival seem even more unlikely. Absurdly, the PA announcer took so long to give out the scores that the teams were on the pitch when he finally read them out - that must affect players' concentration.
The second half saw us slipping desperately out of the division - we tried unbelievably hard, but all that effort frequently resulted in unforced errors and most of our attacks lost their way without endangering the Leicester goal. Mind you, we were once again lumbered with a referee that refused to give Devon White a break - virtually every header he won was cancelled out by the whistle.
In a game that always seemed likely to be decided by a single goal, we couldn't afford to let Leicester score. But they did, with half an hour left - a cross was flicked on towards the far post; White, in a moment of madness, headed it back across goal and Izzet nodded the ball past Miller.
We had half an hour to rescue ourselves and it never looked likely. The best opening fell to Gary Porter in a crowded six-yard box but he couldn't connect on the turn and the ball bobbled tamely to the keeper. Then, as the minutes flew by, the one moment of real controversy - Andy Hessenthaler, running down the right side of the area, appeared to be brought down on the edge of the box by two defenders. The referee gave nothing. My opinion? One of the defenders did get the ball but played the man as well, which makes it a foul as I understand it (the other defender didn't get anywhere near the ball). Whether it was in the area or not, I don't know, but the referee showed few signs of being courageous enough to give a penalty and endure the Leicester fans' wrath anyway. Hessenthaler was stretchered off as a result of the tackle.
By the end, our need to attack had left huge holes in the defence and Miller had been forced into a brilliant double save - flicking the ball away from a striker's feet then parrying the fiercely-struck shot from the rebound. Miller is far too good for the Second Division.
Ultimately, Portsmouth won and Millwall drew so a win wouldn't have helped our position anyway - in some ways, it's better to know you're relegated as soon as the final whistle blows than to wait anxiously and then be disappointed by other results. I just felt numb. It still hasn't really sunk in and I don't suppose it will for a while - it'll take Euro '96 to get this out of my system. Graham Taylor summoned the players from the dressing room for a lap of honour - the very least the long-suffering fans deserve - and we put a brave face on things with one last chant of "We'll be back as champions". At the pub afterwards, there were laughs and smiles, but I woke up this morning feeling gutted, stunned, helpless...
Christ, I don't even want to think about what happens now. Perspective can wait. Right now, all I want to do is open a bottle of Beck's, put on the Fugees LP and wallow a little...