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95/96: Reports:

Endsleigh League Division 1, 13/4/96
Watford 5(2)
Port Vale 2(1)
Team: Miller 3, Bazeley 4, Barnes 4, *Connolly 5*, Page 4, Millen 3, Porter 2, Palmer 4, Ramage 4, Mooney 4, Dixon 2
Subs: D White (for Dixon) 4, Payne (for Porter) 3, Moralee (for Ramage) 4
Scorers: Connolly 3 (1 pen), D White 2
A modicum of pride
Report by Dan Exeter

Not just the best game (for me) of the season but probably the best game in a very long while. Yet, ironically enough, I thought we were poor in patches and certainly didn't deserve to win by 3 goals. Mind you, lots of other matches this season we haven't deserved to lose and we have, so I suppose this sort of help makes up for it.

The big news before the game was that Hessy wasn't in the side and instead young David Conolly (he's only 18 or so - God I feel old) was wearing the number 4 shirt. To be totally honest this had 'Grim Disaster' written all over it, especially considering Vale's recent good form. Anyway, it was good to see the Rookery full of kids, I'd like to see this scheme expanded for next season, as although they're free they do generate interest in the club and let's face it, we need all the interest we can get from the town next season. It was also good to see some of the lads near where Kate, Don, Ig etc were sitting taking the mick out of the Watford Cheerleaders. Will someone get rid of them soon please (or failing that make sure they're 18 or so. Not that I'm a sexist pig or anything).

Anyway, the game. Conolly put us 2 up after half an hour or so, both shots from the left side of the box into the right side of the Rookery goal. I don't think we really threatened their goal in between. The goals did look better on the sports round-up, as from where I was sitting (in my lucky seat again. The last time I'd sat there was at...Port Vale last season) I couldn't really see Rambo's passes. Inevitably, they got the two goals back. One a definite penalty before the break, and the other after about 20 minutes in the second half with a shot that I thought Miller should have had, an impression reinforced after seeing it on the box.

And then we went mad. We scored 3 more goals, 2 headers by Devon White and the last a penalty by Conolly. This must have been my first Watford hat-trick in years, in fact can someone recall the last 10 Watford hat-tricks? I missed Bazeley's last season (I was staying at a friend's in Bristol - that night in the pub I got very drunk and puzzled all the locals by continually chanting 'Da-rren, Darren Baze-ley') and Furlong's and Porter's the year before that, so anyone got any idea of hat-tricks before that?

Anyway, after the fifth went in virtually all the Vale crowd left (not surprisingly really) while we were so high some even thought Moralee (who'd come on for the last ten minutes for Rambo, who walked off to the dressing room looking decidedly annoyed) was doing well. He looked sharp yes, and he'll be useful next year once we've sold Phillips (as we surely will), but he hardly set the world alight.

So there you have it. A 5-2 win. Unbelievable.

Still going down though. At least we're now going down with a modicum of pride.

Style and purpose
Report by Ian Grant

Yessss. Yes yes yes yes yes. Oh yes yes yes yes yes. Yeah. Yee-haaaaaaaaa. And so on.

We've seen enough false dawns to know that one result doesn't mean that the club's back on the rails, but realism shouldn't be allowed to take the shine off this win. Just a small payback for the fans who've stuck by the players through this dreadful season - it's too late for survival, but we're within reach of Luton and catching them would be such a massive boost for morale.

It was encouraging to read in the programme that Taylor thought the last two performances were as gutless as I did - perhaps the realisation that losers won't be tolerated by the boss has finally hit some of the players. It took just two minutes to get the first goal - persistence by Darren Bazeley, who appears to have been given a kick up the backside during the week, won the ball and Craig Ramage slid a pass into David Connolly, who found the net by shooting across the keeper from a very tight angle. The kind of well-worked goal that makes you wonder why we've been so utterly cack recently.

The dream start lifted our confidence and, for once, we put passes together and attacked with purpose. Kerry Dixon looked knackered but Connolly found space with lively runs - we even saw Baze deliver a couple of decent crosses. That said, Port Vale were gifted the chance of an equaliser when the ref gave them an indirect free kick in the box for a challenge that was no worse than some that went unpunished elsewhere on the pitch. It was taken quickly, leaving a Vale striker with a free shot on goal from the penalty spot - he slashed it wide.

We extended the lead after half an hour, with an even better version of the first goal - a lovely Ramage pass rewarded Connolly's run and the young striker finished with a shot high into the corner. Ironically, Connolly was featured in the programme, saying the Watford fans haven't seen the best of him yet - I think we have some idea of what he's talking about after this. He still looks a bit lightweight at times but there's plenty of time to work on that aspect and the finishing is something you can't argue with.

Unlike, say, Ipswich, the opposition didn't play their way back into the game - they were just bloody lucky. The penalty, just before half-time, was unnecessary from our point of view - the Vale striker tried to go between Palmer and Barnes and was clearly caught by the latter. He made the most of the challenge but there was contact. Don't listen to Holmes - she's wrong :-^)

That was a bit of a downer for the interval and I didn't feel too good about the arrival of Big Dev either, although Derek Payne's return was more than welcome. Incidentally, I should point out that Dixon went off at the break because of an injury - the referee was partly to blame for this, since he refused to allow the trainer to come on even when the ball went out of play and it must have taken two or three minutes to get treatment. That is out of order. Anyway, for a while we lost our heads and resorted to wellying balls onto White's head in the hope that something would happen. It worked once, when White flicked on a long throw and Payne drove the ball in from a yard (about Freddie's ideal shooting distance, I'd say) - it was disallowed, presumably for some pushing. Otherwise, we looked less dangerous than when we'd been passing it around on the floor in the first half.

Vale were getting on top but the equaliser was terribly unlucky - McCarthy's shot took a vicious deflection and ran weakly past the wrong-footed Miller. The game could have gone either way at that point - however, our determination not to let bad fortune get the better of us won through. We were ahead again five minutes later - awful defensive organisation left White unmarked at a corner and he flicked in a header at the near post for his first Watford goal.

We didn't look back. With ten minutes left, a bad backpass put Musselwhite in trouble and the keeper was robbed by Connolly's tackle as he tried to dribble the ball to safety. Connolly was brought down (unnecessarily, really - there were a lot of defenders back) and refused to let Tommy Mooney have the ball - he took a deep breath and sent the keeper the wrong way from the spotkick for a superb hat-trick. Performance of the season, I wouldn't wonder. In fact, he came within a whisker of a fourth when Musselwhite spilled Payne's weak shot and Connolly just failed to get the ball past the keeper.

The rout was complete when Bazeley swung in a cross to the far post and White came flying in, clattering a defender out of the way in the process, to head home. Half the Vale fans (about twenty, then - Ed) made for the exits at that point - a truly wonderful sight. I felt quite emotional at the final whistle, mainly at seeing the look on David Connolly's face.

While there was a certain amount of muscle involved, we achieved this result by using our brains. Basically, we found enough space to look up and examine the options before passing - a little thought goes a long, long way. The fact that Bazeley was positively involved in a lot of our attacking play after the nightmare he had at Southend says a lot. The combination of intelligent football with old-fashioned blood and guts was too much for Port Vale - the scoreline reflects the way that both sides played the game.

Strange old world, innit. I'd been getting disillusioned with our crass attempts to bludgeon our way past teams then, suddenly, we come out playing with considerable style and purpose and pulverise a half-decent team. We have, I think, set a standard for ourselves.

(Dedicated to the Vic Road Stand cheerleaders, pom-poms and all - now that's what I call pre-match entertainment...)