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95/96: Reports:

Endsleigh League Division 1, 17/2/96
Crystal Palace 4(2)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Miller 2, Gibbs 2, Mooney 2, Foster 1, *Millen 3*, Palmer 3, Hessenthaler 2, Hill 2, White 2, Porter 1, Phillips 3
Subs: Bazeley (for Porter) 2, Page (for Gibbs) 2, Ludden
Nothing to lose
Report by Ian Grant

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

With most of our senior professionals available at last, plus two new acquisitions, I think many Watford fans travelled to Selhurst with raised hopes. No such luck. This was an undignified shambles, the kind of hopeless mess that causes that "never again" feeling usually brought on by a night on the ale. It was crap, in other words.

The only source of consolation arrived before the game - someone has worse cheerleaders than us! The Palace gals, gawd bless 'em, strutted their stuff like good 'uns, whilst screeching out chants ("Red and blue and a little white...") at a pitch and volume that probably caused a riot up at Battersea dogs home. Heaven help us.

Watford fans might as well have gone home before the kickoff. If you ever wanted a conclusive argument for playing five at the back, this was it. As Kate (if you're missing her reports, she'll be back shortly - assuming the IRA don't try and blow her up again) astutely pointed out, the three central defenders complement each other - Foster has the height, Millen has the awareness and Holdsworth has the pace. Without Ol' Dodgy's speed, we were comprehensively slaughtered by the likes of Freedman and Dyer. Fos looked particularly bemused by the proceedings, leaving Millen to try and hold it all together.

We were all over the place from the start, giving a Palace striker a free header early on which he thankfully wasted. Miller was forced to turn a low shot wide shortly after. The inevitable happened after quarter of an hour - Palace broke, Freedman wrong-footed the hapless Foster and hit a well-placed shot past Miller from the edge of the box.

Sadly, that didn't wake us up. We huffed and puffed to little effect, getting hassled into losing possession far too often and always looking vulnerable when Palace attacked. Our efforts yielded just one chance, and that was the result of a defensive error - Phillips hit the target from a tight angle after forcing the mistake but Martyn saved and Super Kev couldn't control his header from the rebound.

We were caught out again as the half neared its end. Another quick break resulted in a shot that was well saved by Miller but the defence stood and watched as the ball was crossed back for Freedman to head in. A dreadful goal to concede.

Any thoughts of a miraculous second-half revival were ill-founded. Again, we had a fair amount of possession but did nothing with it. Danny Hill appeared to be the only player with enough vision to provide the killer pass, yet he didn't adjust to the pace of the game and was frequently robbed of the ball as he looked for movement up front. Talking of which, I can't believe we'd have signed Devon White if Dixon was fit - this must be a panic measure. White is slow and clumsy (yeah, he's tall, but so was Trevor Senior) - in other words, with the transfer market in its inflated state, he's exactly what you get for a hundred grand. That said, he gave his all and, like Phillips, he had little or no support on the rare occasion that the ball came his way. I hope he proves me wrong.

Palace, on the other hand, continued to destroy us and it was no surprise when they scored again. Page, on for Gibbs, was ill-equipped to deal with Dyer and both goals came as a result of that mis-matched contest and errors by Miller. For the first, Brucie twisted and turned before cutting inside as Page stumbled and firing in a low shot that Miller let in through his hands. The second came a few minutes later - this time, Dyer went outside Page on the right wing and again the shot eluded Miller.

We rallied a little towards the end, Palmer nearly getting on the scoresheet with a header that had Martyn at full stretch, but we need rather more than consolation goals right now. You know you're in deep trouble when you get thrashed by a Dave Bassett side. Palace look like a mediocre First Division outfit - if they make the playoffs and get promoted, they'll come back faster than a rocket-powered boomerang - but that's more than can be said for us. We look doomed. This was a pathetic effort.

The Watford fans responded first with dismay, then with anger (directed mainly at Jack Petchey - all very well, but who's going to buy the club from him?) and finally with gallows humour. I had a bit of a moan at the fans last week - they were tremendous this time, a fact acknowledged by Palmer and Mooney at the end (the first time I've seen Palmer applauded by 'Orns fans - no-one gave more for the cause, but he has to have creative players in front of him). "Whatever will be, will be, we're going to Shrewsbury..." If you're gonna go, do it with pride in your heart and a smile on your face...

So, where do we go from here? Down, probably, but there's still a lot of games to go and we can do it. (I never give up, do I?) Certain players emerged from this fiasco with credit - Millen, Palmer, Phillips, White - the rest must follow their example. We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.