Report by Ian Grant
The most important local derby for years and, perhaps inevitably, it ends in massive anticlimax. We may be able to take some consolation from the fact that Luton's season has been as bad as ours but the knowledge that we'll have to visit this hellhole of an away end (where there's so little legroom you can't even sit in the seat you've paid stlg 12.50 for) next season doesn't exactly fill my heart with joy.
In the circumstances, a clean sheet is a remarkable achievement. With every central defender at the club unavailable, we were forced to draft in Darren Ward from the juniors to play alongside Steve Palmer - we all know what happened last time we played a junior in a derby game. Luton may have done us a favour with their charitable finishing, but Ward coped extremely well with the test - he was helped by Palmer, who's the kind of player that spots gaps and fills them, making up for others' lapses.
So why do I feel so completely gutted about the result? Not because it almost certainly relegates us - I'd pretty much accepted that fate weeks ago. The fact is that this was the one chance to salvage something from this miserable season - beating Luton might not mean much to most of the players, but it would have been celebrated through the summer by the fans. Every season we look at the fixtures and assess our chances of finally beating Luton. Every season the derby games end in crushing disappointment. Sometimes it really gets you down.
In entertainment terms, this was the worst derby game since the dreadful goalless draw at the Vic three seasons ago. There were chances, but neither keeper had to make a serious save. As a game of football, it hardly merits a report. The level of commitment was much as you'd expect, the level of skill was simply risible.
Luton had the better of the first half without ever translating their territorial superiority into real chances. Kevin Miller gifted their best opportunity with a scuffed clearance that left him stranded in no man's land - the lob cleared Miller but also cleared the bar. We struggled to put any coherent moves together, ending the half with just one serious effort on goal - Craig Ramage's superb overhead kick from Devon White's header - but even that was off-target, albeit only by a few inches.
The second half was a bit more interesting, although you wouldn't want to be forced to watch it again. We saw a little more of the ball but again failed to create anything worth talking about for the strikers. The referee's absurd insistence that any physical contact would mean a free kick stopped many of our attacks as soon as they began - White in particular was penalised innumerable times. When Tommy Mooney's stampede down the wing was halted because a Luton player had fallen over (the linesman wasn't watching and assumed there'd been a foul), I have to admit I completely lost it - most humble apologies to the bloke standing next to me.
Only towards the end of the game did we test the Luton keeper - even then it was only with a couple of very tame shots from White. Similarly, Luton produced little more than weak long-range efforts for Miller to collect. But they did create the perfect chance for Kim Grant to win the game early in the half - he raced clear, pursued by Dominic Ludden who got a foot in as Grant was about to shoot. That superb tackle forced the striker to go round Miller - he did so and, with Palmer on the line, blasted a wild shot into the side netting.
The referee, then. Christ, I'm prepared to give officials the benefit of the doubt but there's no question that many aren't fit to take charge of a professional football match. In his eagerness to control the game, the referee booked four players in the first ten minutes (two from either side, all for offences that could have been handled with a quiet word) and set a standard he couldn't possibly maintain. There were only two bad tackles in the match - one, by Gary Porter, was so late that the referee missed it completely; the other, a Luton defender flattening Ludden, warranted a yellow card and got it. Yet by the time he sent off Luton's Alexander in the last minute (don't know why - I was watching the Luton fans having a fight with their stewards), he'd also booked ten players and lost control of a relatively sensible derby match. I dread to think what he'd be like when faced with some real aggro.
No surprise that it ended goalless. Neither side looked like scoring - partly because defences were on top (and, if you're interested, Palmer's magnificent display has sealed my vote for player of the season ahead of Mooney), partly because the finishing was so poor. It was the right result and it condemns both sides to relegation.
Oh bugger. We'll beat them next season. We'll even do the double over them. Won't we?
Relegating each other
Report by Kate Holmes
Difficult to know what to say about this. I suppose it was always on the cards that it would be a draw, and with the defence being somewhat injured, keeping a clean sheet must be seen as a bonus. Trouble is I still feel very disappointed. I am beginning to think we will never beat them.
Darren Ward did well under the circumstances - remember Gary Fitzgerald. Steve Palmer was brilliant again, and Ludden and Bazeley worked really hard. Mooney gave them a bit of trouble down the wing, although he was playing a lot deeper. Ramage was a bit annoying at times, so what's new, but I think Porter and Hessy had their best games for a long time. Hessy got booked, and it was nice to see Hornets players showing almost as much passion as we do for this sort of match. Porter did one brilliant foul in the first half, and having seen Rams booked for standing in front of the ball and Devon booked for presumably wearing a yellow shirt it was great to see one of our boys get away with a nasty foul. Incidently, anyone any idea why Devon was booked? One of the worst challenges of the first half came from their captain who did this horrendous foul on one of our boys - I think it was Ludden. Having seen what had previously constituted a yellow card, this should have been straight red. It wasn't of course.
The first half was pretty even, with neither side creating a chance of any note. Mooney tried to get clear down the left but twice he was cynically taken out. The funniest bit about the whole match was the Watford fans. We stood for the entire first half, then sat for half time, and then stood for the entire second half. For those of you fortunate enough to never set foot in that dump, you cannot see when you stand up, but you can't sit down because nobody fits into the poxy seats. I am shorter than Freddy and my knees are rammed up against the seat in front when I sit down. Lovely.
For the second half we took off David Connolly, who had got injured, and brought on Jamie Moralee - he played like a man possessed. I think we have found a better role for him, as a wide midfielder/winger. He does own some pace, and is less lightweight out wide than down the middle. Rams pushed up alongside Devon, who would have caused them problems if the ref hadn't whistled every time he was within 3 metres of the ball.
They should have scored when they broke clear in a counter attack, Kim Grant - stretchered off last week, out for the rest of the season, and makes a miraculous recovery to play - ran clean through, rounded Kev and planted the ball into the side netting. I really could not see them scoring. Unfortunately, we didn't look capable either. Porter was substituted for Freddy, who was right in the thick of it as soon as he came on. It was no surprise when he picked up a booking, and it looked a fair certainty we would have someone sent off.
As the game drew to a close, we were getting more and more desperate to see a Watford goal. We got a throw in our own half, and a scummer jumped onto the pitch to try and deck Mooney. As soon as the stewards went for him, he jumped back into the crowd. A fight broke out between the stewards and the scummers, and while we were all watching that, one of their players was sent off. I presumed it was for mouthing to the ref, but I have been informed that it was for holding on to the ball so Mooney couldn't take the kick. I feel that they were happier with the point than we were.
At the end of the match, Moralee was in tears, and Kev looked pretty close, as they know that is it. We have ended up relegating each other. At least we didn't lose, I suppose, but just once in a decade it would be nice to celebrate a victory over them. Still there's always next year.
See you all in Rotherham.