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FA Carling Premiership, 6/11/99
Sheffield Wednesday
Gifton is back!
By Asher Peters

I'd heard the rumour, on the way. He had played some reserve game and a Herts Senior Cup game, partially at least, and he was going to be in the squad. Well, he made his entrance grand. All the others were out, there was a pause... and there he was, unmistakeable as ever, wearing completely different clothes to every one else just to enhance his returning hero image.

Wooter and Ngonge started, though. The sun casting shadows from behind us, I admired the scenery visible through the gaps between the stands. I should have realised there'd be a hill behind the stadium, I suppose, but it was nice anyway and made the ground feel unique.

In the first half we should've scored more, to be brutal. Wednesday were at times laughable, their defence anonymous and in attack showing an ITV-like ability to put lots of good elements together and come up with something terrible. Time after time they got into good positions and failed to link up when it seemed easier to do so than lay the ball off delicately to no-one. Special mention must also go to the innovative use of the backheel as defensive clearance; we seemed too bemused by the resultant possession to do anything with it.

But if anything upstaged Gifton's return, it was started around a quarter of an hour in. To the left of the stand, 'Elton John's Taylor-made Army' was started. Quiet at first, we soon realised it was going to be one of those long-running efforts. We joined in the clapping, then the singing. The chant was spreading. Eventually it got quite loud, and we stood up. Suddenly everyone was standing up and singing for all they were worth. The ball broke to Miller, he laid it off to Ngonge, and we scored. We scored. It was a collective effort, our chanting had somehow been converted into results on the pitch. For maybe the first time ever, I felt directly responsible for a Watford goal, along with the other fans, and it was one of those moments you remember.

Wednesday still managed, for all their comedy ineptitude, to fashion a couple of good chances and Hyde had to clear off the line. The battle of the drummers in the crowd continued, and we looked for Tangoman. Instead we found a group of nutters in fancy dress amongst the Wednesday support. There was Batman, Superman, that bloke from The Mask and a few others, dancing along to our chants. At least Sheffield have good fans.

Just before half-time Gifton arrived, for a limping Wooter. After such a long time out it was a worry whether he'd be as good; but he is on this evidence - holding the ball up, beating players through sheer strength, still able to see and deliver the odd crucial pass. We cheered his every move like we used to do to Phillips.

At half-time there was just the same kind of pitchside entertainment we had chuckled at before the game but some of the first half had upstaged it for silliness. I wondered aloud how Wednesday fans would feel if they lost to the team one place above them at home and went at least six points adrift. I was breaking the unwritten rule never to speculate on the result so maybe I should take some responsibility for it but, hey, I'd already scored a goal.

They started the second half playing less like they'd just met, still very fragile at the back but more dangerous in attack. Neil Cox was having a solid debut at right back. Unfortunate, then, that he was supposed to be a wingback. When he did break forward we were consistently exposed and Wednesday pounded in the crosses all half. It is a serious problem at the moment that we do not have any real wingbacks, possibly excepting Kennedy, and 4-4-2 does not leave any room for the currently undroppable Miller.

Their long throws were also causing us problems (mmm, just like being back in Division Two), and from one of these they gained an unexpected penalty. Three Watford players went up for it with just one opponent, yet despite the surprise it was greeted with I suspect the replay might well vindicate the decision. It was briefly annoying to think we had conceded two penalties in as many games for the offence when we'd had very good shouts for it against both Boro and Coventry, but then I remembered we never score them anyway. De Bilde levelled and the Wednesday fans woke up.

Our chance to win the game looked remote but we were still to celebrate once more, Page charging on to a testing free kick to nod in at the back post. If he carries on like this he may even get a chant someday, although we were too busy being fattist to Pressman. Me and my mates tried to start 'Podgy Keeper!' but they were having none of it.

I think the formation change, Gibbs on for Panayi, was meant to signal 4-3-3, the latest attempt to accomodate Miller convincingly, with Easton in midfield, the legend veteran at leftback and the Scotsman up front, but this looked unwieldy. We still looked vulnerable and it was only a surprise that the second equaliser came not from the endless crosses but from De Bilde's individual excellence, turning two defenders, if rather too easily, and slotting home. There was time for a goalline clearance, with suspicion of yet another handball, to deny us a late winner we barely deserved. Frankly the amount of handballs throughout the game was bizarrely high and I suppose credit must go to the referee for seeing, ooh, 20% of them.

This was an exciting game, if shoddy in play quality, but I can't help being optimistic. Noel-Williams and Smith up front looks promising, Wooter (though he had a poor game) gives us another threat with his running and Miller looks like the ideal player in the orchestrative role. If we can accomodate them, we'll stay up. Over to you, Graham.