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98/99: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 1, 30/1/99
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Bazeley 4, Kennedy 4, Page 5, Palmer 4, Iroha 4, *Wright 5*, Hyde 4, Noel-Williams 4, Johnson 4, Daley 4
Subs: Robinson, Mooney (for Noel-Williams) 3, Hazan (for Daley) 0
Scorers: Wright (18), Noel-Williams (53)
Sunderland 1(1)
Scorers: Quinn (36)
Report by Ian Grant

"As I see it, there'll forever be war / But in this life we fight to make peace mean more..."
- Lewis Parker, 1998

Like the man Lewis says, it's about amplifying the good bits. Being aware that it could all fall apart so easily needn't mean that you have to get the magnifying glass out to look for the first cracks appearing. "Every bag of jelly beans has a bottom", as the saying goes, "but them beans still taste damn good".

So this was how it should be - a Watford team giving its all, supported to the full by the fans. How much more does this superb victory mean because we played such an ample role in achieving it? How frustrating is it that we can only create a positive atmosphere when the league leaders come to town? How can the club possibly justify crassly drowning out the joyous post-match celebrations with Robbie bloody Williams?

Some of us had a feeling about this one. Graham Taylor's sides aren't known for letting it lie and the recent run of disappointing form has revealed nothing fundamental, just poor finishing and slipping confidence. Prior to Saturday, we needed a lift to remind us - players and supporters - that we're plenty good enough. We got that, and more.

It was magnificent. Sunderland are, in First Division terms, as good as it gets. In a Niall Quinn kinda way as opposed to a David Ginola kinda way, but still. We did more than match them, we had them in considerable disarray on several occasions. Not without some luck, we got what we deserved. To label it as any kind of upset is to do those Watford players a major disservice - like I say, we're plenty good enough.

All the pre-match talk about the return of Kevin Phillips only served to obscure the threat posed by the Watford strikeforce. Without a league goal since Christmas but rejuvenated by Tony Daley, a winger in that great Watford tradition, we just did not look like a side that was struggling to score. As a consequence, this was a scorching contest, the kind of game that could lurch either way at any moment.

Daley leads the way, others follow. Nick Wright, down in the dumps of late, had unarguably his finest match in a Watford shirt; Peter Kennedy and Darren Bazeley were less obvious but no less important. Up for it, well up for it. Daley's run at the Sunderland defence after five minutes, bursting through and bringing Sorensen out to claim at his feet, sent reverberations around the ground - there is nothing to be scared of....

At the back, we were stretched but calm. The increasingly majestic Robert Page has found the perfect foil in Steve Palmer and, while no amount of defensive excellence was likely to shut Quinn and Phillips out altogether, chances were kept to a minimum. Ironically, Super Kev's best effort came from his most difficult chance, chesting the ball with his back to goal and instantly connecting with an overhead kick. As throughout, however, Alec Chamberlain was his equal and dived low to his right to fingertip the ball round the post. Five minutes later, Phillips wasted an altogether easier opportunity as, released by Quinn, he hoisted a poor attempt at a lob over the bar.

All warming up nicely, then. And, as it came to the boil, the Hornets scored a real beaut of a goal. Fine approach work gave Daley possession and we were treated to the sight of a Watford winger taking on and beating three opponents, getting to the line and pulling back a perfect cross. It came from another era, it really did. Nick Wright was waiting and didn't disappoint, glancing his header into the corner while Sorensen watched. Glorious.

Soon afterwards, Daley was away again. Unstoppable, he came screaming in from the right touchline and sprinted past challenges until the goal beckoned. Only a weak shot with his left foot stopped him from bringing Vicarage Road to its knees. Please, please, please let him stay fit!

So much fun. Excellent banter with Super Kev (I loved him dearly as a Watford player and he's done nothing to change that), who shunned us while we chanted "Kevin, what's the score?" at him, got a few boos for the first time...then turned, smiled and told us the score with his hands to massive cheers. Additional entertainment was supplied by Richard Johnson who, in frantically closing down in midfield, managed to commit one of his customary clattering fouls...on the referee.

Amid all this, the Sunderland equaliser was an unwelcome reminder of reality. A lengthy spell of passing from the away side looked like being repulsed by well-organised defence until the ball found Phillips inside the area. He turned Page brilliantly to work a shooting opportunity, blasting it from a tight angle. Chamberlain's point blank two-handed save deserved a better fate than to loop up for Quinn to head in from a yard.

A gripping forty-five minutes ended with Wright getting booked for unnecessarily battering Sorensen and then heading a Bazeley cross over at full stretch; Noel-Williams and Ball in a running battle and Kennedy driving a free kick just wide. Tremendous. There was only applause as the teams left the pitch.

The second half was, if anything, even more compelling. Simply, we found the belief that we'd lacked against West Brom - both in the stands and on the pitch, we created our own destiny. With a little help from Kevin Phillips, mind, who poked a useful chance across the face of goal just after the re-start.

The winning goal was quite stunning. Ben Iroha's long throw into the box was controlled on his chest by Gifton Noel-Williams. With his back to goal and a defender in close attention, we waited for the lay-off to a colleague. Instead, in a moment of absolute genius, he hooked the ball goalwards over his shoulder as it dropped. The element of surprise was enough - Sorensen could do nothing, watching in astonishment with the rest of us as it bounced inside his right hand post, and Gifton was away to the corner flag to celebrate. An improvised masterpiece. For a player who once looked so uncertain in front of goal, it was another huge sign of his coming of age.

It was a half of humming activity, punctuated by resonating moments. If Gifton's goal was one such, what happened at the Rookery end after fifty-seven minutes was another. A left wing free kick found its way to the far post, where it was hooked back by Johnston. Quinn was ominously unmarked and the equaliser seemed inevitable - yet, not for the first time, Chamberlain was our saviour, pulling off an incredible reaction save to keep the header out. The rebound fell to Phillips who contrived to put it over the bar.

At this point, there was still a considerable attacking threat from Watford. Not the most conventional threat, perhaps - Sorensen was twice called into action by viciously inswinging crosses, once from a Kennedy corner and once from an Iroha centre - but a threat nonetheless. The ever willing Wright was given the chance to extend the lead with twenty minutes remaining - put through by Daley, he delayed his shot for too long and was superbly tackled (appeals for a penalty were unfounded).

By that time, however, Noel-Williams had been withdrawn with a nasty looking knee injury. It was no coincidence that our forward play gradually disappeared after that - Tommy Mooney is just not an adequate First Division striker, particularly when asked to play as a target man. As Mooney was sucked back into defence, the last twenty minutes of endless Sunderland pressure loomed like, ooh, a great big bloody looming thing.

And it was from here that the wondrous memories were formed. Previously, it had been an excellent, thrilling match; now, it became an emotional experience. Because they needed us and we responded. From nothing, the chant of "Elton John's Taylor-made Army" began. And it grew when it had previously faded away. And it grew some more. "Elton John's Taylor-made Army", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". Just the usual suspects in the Vic Road end at first then spreading to the whole stand, everyone on their feet to sing the boys home.

As the final ten minutes ticked by, it became a mantra. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". You could look around the ground, at the normally silent Upper Rous and Main Stand, and they were all clapping along. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". When we should've been terrified of a Sunderland equaliser, we felt invincible. It transferred to the players, who were invincible. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". Substitute Bridges arrived to form an intimidating trio of top class strikers with Quinn and Phillips, but his break forward ended in a tame finish. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". It was all Sunderland but the final whistle was getting nearer and we weren't going to let them through, no way.

They were all back there, heading and hacking clear. Up front, Nick Wright was utterly exhausted yet still putting himself about. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". The chant doesn't die, we don't rest until the team rests. It goes on, still it grows. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". It subsides at particular moments of panic or excitement, and then swells again with even more volume. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". Injury time arrives, there's an almighty and unintelligible scramble in the Watford area before the ball's booted away to safety for the umpteenth time. "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY", "ELTON JOHN'S TAYLOR-MADE ARMY". It sends shivers down your spine.


The final whistle. Nick Wright's close to collapse in the centre circle, having run his bloody socks off in the pursuit of lost causes. The rest just look shattered. Shattered but so proud. We'd love to sing them off the pitch but the PA cruelly deafens us, so we applaud and applaud and applaud. And then applaud some more.

We love you Watford, we really do. We just play hard to get a bit too often....

Report by Baz Barry

Let me tell you about my own particular compulsions ("an inner drive that causes a person to perform actions, often repetitive, against their will").

I get home from the match and immediately check Teletext for the reports. All hell breaks out around me with the kid's bathtime in full flow but I have to clock the crowds and the tables. I work out the permutations for every result of the game on Sunday. Later I'll check again for the local Teletext pages for any words of wisdom from GT and alike. With the kids in bed I'll then watch every news bulletin, just in case they show the goals. Sunday involves trips to at least three newsagents to read all the reports. I'm not bold enough to read them all in one shop, so I "do" a few tabloids before and after buying the paper with the best report and then move on to the supermarket where it's easier to read the broadsheets without any hassle. Monday and I'm into work early to log on for the Mailing List reactions, and a further trawl through all the papers. I now know to wait until late lunchtime to catch Ig's words and before then I visit every opponents site I can find.

Pretty sad really, but all true, I promise.

When we lose, I just read one or two reports but this week the compulsion is one gigantic high. A glorious afternoon. A compelling match. Two classic Hornet goals. Huge effort from team. The Watford end in full flow. A memorable victory and an afterglow that is still burning strong, 48 hours after the final whistle.

Sunderland started smartly, playing as if to script, every pass already planned, every ball worthwhile, with no loss of effort. They looked worthy of their lofty position. We seemed to leave Quinn to win his headers unchallenged and played a dangerous lottery in guessing where his flick-ons were going. SuperKev looked a class act but luckily for us he seemed to want to win the game on his own. Early on he had an overhead well saved by Alec. Soon after he had a free chance to lob the goalie but lobbed the bar as well. Their goal came from his turning Pagey inside out and blasting at Chamberlain, who did well to parry but only into the path of Quinn who out-jumped Iroha for an easy header. Early in the second half SuperKev poked a shot wide of the goal when he had Quinn free to his left and then after Alec's customary wondersave from a Quinn header our little hero volleyed over the difficult rebound.

On the other hand we started momentarily as if we didn't know each other. Kennedy and Wright kept getting in each other's way but after weathering their initial storm we soon found our feet. The ball got to Daley directly in front of us and he skipped to the line, with Gray and one other in tow, to cross sweetly for Wright to finish crisply. Classic stuff. Sunderland were rattled and seemed to lose all composure and shape. Soon after Daley went on another Michael Owen type run but the shot was saved by the goalie. They were scared of him and from then on seemed to put three players on him. And let's not forget Gray is meant to be the best player outside the Premiership. And let's not forget we're getting this from the little winger for expenses only.

Their goal settled things down but we were their equal. Throughout, the Gift was terrorising their defence in his normal way. We know he gets as good as gives but this was another immense performance. Every ball stuck to him. Every header was won. Clearly, they couldn't cope with him and resorted to every trick in the defender's handbook to stop him. One set-to prior to a corner involved a lot of pushing, shirt holding and flailing arms and the referee's intervention. "Penalty" I shouted, only to be told that no penalty can be given with the ball out of play.

Johno was dropping deep when they had the ball but still had time to upset their patterns and spread the play when we had the ball. Kennedy had his shooting boots on, sending in a few rasping drives and corners. Page and Palmer were coolness and composure personified. Iroha looked characteristically classy, particularly in the second half when he eventually became a third centre back to nullify the threat of the sub, Bridges. The first half ended with the tireless Wright being booked for an assault on their goalie and also heading wide when unmarked.

You don't need me to tell you that Gifton's goal was pure class. A Phillips finish if ever I saw one. We were matching them and capitalising on the space they left as they pushed for a second equaliser. That balance was lost once GNW went off after being clattered from behind. My six-year old was mortified that his hero was "sent-off injured". The Moonster came on running and didn't stop, but the ball wouldn't stick and the last twenty saw us under the cosh. Not that it mattered because by then THAT CHANT started and everyone was joining in. Their fans were strangely silent.

It's a shame to end with a gripe, so I won't, BUT that PA is too loud. Before the game you had to shout to be heard. There's no space for any atmosphere to develop and no room for the crowd to express itself. Please, please, please, Mr Wells, show some sense and tone it down or get rid all together.

Sheer delighted greeted the final whistle. Wright and Mooney both collapsed in separate heaps exhausted. The Vicarage Road end was a sea of joyous celebration. A sight to behold and one I'll not forget for a very long time. An awful cliché to end with, I know, but entirely apt.

See also: Ready To Go