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95/96: Reports:

Endsleigh League Division 1, 16/12/95
Watford 3(1)
Tranmere Rovers 0(0)
Team: Miller 4, Bazeley 4, Millen 4, Foster 4, Holdsworth 3, Palmer 4, Johnson 3, Wilkinson 5, Mooney 3, Hodge 4, *Phillips 5*
Subs: Penrice, Page, Lowndes
Scorers: Phillips 2 (1 pen), own goal
Long may it continue!
Report by Ian Grant

God, we needed a win like this so badly. We hadn't won at home since thumping Stoke and the patience of some sections of the fans was clearly running out. Vastly improved performances at Millwall and Birmingham had indicated that our fortunes were changing but we had to start making it count before Christmas.

Finding out that Andy Hessenthaler was injured did my confidence no good at all - we struggled badly without him early in the season. In fact, the signing of Steve Hodge meant we hardly missed Hess at all. Uncle Glenn continues to bring good players into the squad on an extremely tight budget - I'd particularly include Steve Palmer in that, for the simple reason that he's an experienced defensive midfielder and we've needed one of those for ages.

Anyway, we nearly blew it all in the first minute. Craig Ramage's pre-match lecture on "The Effects of the Bosman Case on Players' Pie Allowances" had clearly distracted the boys, as Tranmere took advantage of our indecisive defending early on. A low shot that had Miller beaten came back off the post and, from the rebound, another effort was blocked on the line by Keith Millen. I guess it's all tactical, really - get the moments of blind panic out of the way as soon as possible, then concentrate on playing football.

And, to our credit, we did just that, putting together some incisive and inventive moves that deserved to end in goals. The best of these involved neat, first-time passes on the right wing before Phillips found space for a flashing header that forced a fine save. With the current struggles, a timely reminder of what we're trying to create at this club.

We seemed well capable of scoring as the game progressed. Phillips was involved in everything, showing the all-round play that we came to expect last season; Wilko caused all sorts of trouble in the air; Hodge, Palmer and Johnno won the ball and used it intelligently. Ironically, we took the lead just as Tranmere had started to get back into the game. Johnson played Wilko in and he was brought down as he went into the box. Phillips stepped up to take the spot kick and, despite making it totally apparent where the ball was going (the keeper might as well have leant against the post), found the net.

By the end of the half, Miller had been beaten again but the post saved us once more as Tranmere experienced some of the bad luck that was afflicting us not so long ago. The start of the second half saw us retreat into defence - whether this was a tactical decision or just lack of confidence, it's a dangerous thing to do. We had some anxious moments but the defence held firm and Miller was equal to any goal attempts that got through.

When we finally got some controlled possession, we scored again. So that's all right, then. Prior to the arrivals of Hodge, capable of delivering a decent near-post ball, and Wilkinson, able to flick it on, we'd been about as likely to score from a goal kick as from a corner. Things have changed, though, and David Holdsworth thought he'd scored after getting on the end of the cross, before an attempted clearance hit Colin Foster and rebounded into the net. Hardly the prettiest goal you'll ever see but still prettier than Lavin's corner at Bournemouth...

That should have killed Rovers off, particularly since they'd lost Ian Moore who's a real threat, but they continued to come forward - Millen, perhaps without knowing it, got in the way of a goal-bound header to preserve the clean sheet. We finally secured the points in the last ten minutes, thanks to Super Kev (again). Picking up another Wilko flick, he raced past a defender and fired in a shot - the keeper saved it well but the ball looped up and Kev kept his head to volley it home. It was the least he deserved after an inspirational performance.

The rest of the game was spent abusing the Tranmere keeper, who'd had a complete arse-end of an afternoon. I felt rather sorry for him, to be honest, because his defenders appeared to be having a competition to see who could come up with the most unplayable backpass. They were coming at him thick and fast - thumped back at knee height, bouncing up to his chin, whistling past towards the goal....Only the fact that Phillips and Wilko were dead on their feet by the end stopped us taking advantage as Rovers farted around in defence to waste time.

A bit of good luck, then, but we earnt this win. I like the look of this side far more than the one that featured Ramage and Caskey. I wouldn't want to resort to manager's cliches about trenches (I'll leave that to Olly Phillips) but we've got players in there with a bit of spirit. Surprisingly, that applies to Wilko as much as anyone - he was bloody magnificent in this game. He set up all the goals and spent the entire match leaning, pushing, climbing and being a right pain in the backside. Which is exactly what we're paying his wages for. If the price is right, we could do a lot worse.

Things are starting to go our way (at last) and I'd like to give some of the credit to the manager for making important changes and bringing in new (or old) blood. He's doing a good job, long may it continue.

A win was vital
Report by Kate Holmes

We approached this game knowing that a win was vital - losing wasn't an option. Having been unlucky last week at Birmingham, we had to pick ourselves up from 3rd bottom and get our first home win since September. Just before the gates opened, I was told that Hessy was out, and Holdsworth was facing a late fitness test. Good start. We did have the services of Steve Hodge, so at least that was something.

For ages the only Hornets out on the pitch to warm up were Kevin Miller, Stuart Murdoch and Harry Hornet. I knew we had a bit of an injury crisis, but this was getting ridiculous. Eventually the rest of the troops ventured out into the cold. The team had been changed a bit from last time, with Keith Millen brought back to act as captain, Steve Hodge in place of Geoff Pitcher.

The action started immediately, with Tranmere hitting the post after about 20 seconds. For once, the ball rebounded to relative safety - the first bit of luck we seem to have had at Vicarage Road. For a couple of minutes we panicked a bit, but other than that incident, they never came close enough for Kevin Miller to have to make a save. Once we settled down a bit, we looked far more assured. Hodge has got a touch of class, and unlike Caskey was willing to put in the work rate as well. He can also take corners, which is almost unheard of.

A few chances came our way, most falling to Super Kev, who was looking on form. We created the best opening, when Hodge put Bazeley in down the right wing. His first time cross was met by the head of Super Kev, saved by the keeper. We managed several penalty appeals, and it was nice to get our own back on the moaning, whining, cheating Scouse gits. Usually you go to sunny Scouse land, hear them appeal for about 50 penalties, get the most dodgy one going, and then win the match. We did finally get a penalty, after Wilko had turned sharply and been crudely dumped on the floor. Not too much of an appeal from the Tranmere defenders, although I'm certain Watford's players appealled for a free-kick outside the area.

It took ages before anyone decided they would take the penalty, Super Kev being the brave little soldier. You could tell he was going to put it to the keeper's right - it looked so obvious. In fact he put the ball exactly where I told him to. The keeper dived the right way, but the kick was placed so well that he couldn't get near it. Finally we took the lead at Vicarage Road. The last time that happened was Blackburn. What a depressing thought.

The goal seemed to relax both the players and the fans, and the rest of the half was spent feeling rather chuffed with ourselves. Things got even happier at half-time when we found out Scum were losing 3-0. The only downside to the performance had been bookings for Wilko - for dissent, a bit harsh considering they moaned all the time - and Foster for reasons unknown. Probably for being tall.

The second half started as expected - we were put under a lot of pressure. Our defence do like to make it difficult for us, and we just could not get out of our half. A few people were screaming at Roeder to do something, though short of fusing the floodlights, he was as helpless as we were. Most of our worries were through their wingers, but as we haven't got Lavin anymore, we stood a chance. Nevin was actually taken off, surprisingly as he seemed to be causing a lot of problems for Tommy Mooney.

Just as things were getting very nervy, we managed to break out of defence and win a corner. It was a relief to see the ball down our end, as most of the action had been miles away. Hodge took the corner, Wilko got a near post flick on, and total chaos ensued. Holdsworth's header looked to be in. I was celebrating that as a goal, but the ref didn't give it. We kept plugging away and somehow the ball went in - supposedly off Colin Foster. I'm not too convinced about that, but he's taller than me so I won't argue. I still say it was Holdsworth's goal, because his header crossed the line. Thankfully, we didn't stop, as there was no way the ref was going to give it. The goal came at a perfect time for us, halfway through the second half, and totally against the run of play.

After this, I think everyone knew we were going to win. The players looked confident, the fans were happy, and the Tranmere defenders were giving us a lot of entertainment. They started to give their keeper some horrendous backpasses - in the air, very hard, difficult to control, awkward place, under pressure. It looked like they were doing it on purpose, and I cannot imagine our defenders doing that to Kev. He'd kill them. Needless to say we loved it, and spent a lot of time giving the poor guy some stick - great fun.

Super Kev finally scored the goal in front of the North Stand that he promised for me. Once again, Wilko got a flick on, Super Kev took on two defenders and hit a shot the keeper could only parry. Super Kev made no mistake with the second attempt to give us a 3-0 win. Tranmere did try to get a consolation, but Kev pulled off a couple of good saves to keep us a clean sheet. All in all a damn fine performance, much needed 3 points, and a happy day all round. Steve Hodge looked impressive, as did Wilko. If we carry on like this, we'll be all right.