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FA Carling Premiership, 18/3/00
Sheffield Wednesday
We won!
By Ian Grant

It only takes a second to score a goal. It only takes a goal to win a game. It only takes a win to make my day....

...And it would only have taken a few more days like this to make a season.

That most of this match could've been transplanted onto a frozen pitch at Blundell Park in December and not looked out of place really isn't the point. If we had managed to make a go of it this season, it would've involved watching more games like this, not less - our failure, to put it very crassly, has been that we haven't dragged enough teams down to our level. You can't criticise us for losing naively in open and exciting fashion, then also complain when we win tediously.

Sod it all, frankly. Sod the media, sod entertainment, sod quality, sod skill, sod attractive football, sod everything. We've won for the first time this year, kept a clean sheet for the first time in six months, and avoided being beaten by all nineteen Premiership opponents in the process. How we did it is as irrelevant as the colour of the lifeboat that saves you from drowning.

So if you're thinking that I'd be writing a completely different, and altogether more negative, report had Allan Smart not popped up with that late winner, then you're absolutely right. Can you blame me? I usually write about performances as much as results, but we're well past that stage now. We won, full stop. Every Watford fan will feel exactly the same. In our position, every football fan would feel the same too.

We won - I'll keep saying it, because it sounds good - and it only took us two and half months and eighty-eight minutes to find a way of doing it. We did the first bit with ease - Sheffield Wednesday are already at our level, no dragging down necessary. As ever, though, we struggled to turn a possible result into an actual result.

It began in rather lively fashion, at least in comparison to the barren wastelands of the second half. We were unaware of the torture that awaited us as Alec Chamberlain saved easily from Cresswell in the third minute and Pavel Srnicek failed to do the same from Nordin Wooter moments later, injuring his shoulder under challenge from Heidar Helguson after inexplicably spilling the ball.

It felt like Saturday had arrived, so we stood and cheered and chanted. And, as ever, we hoped for that rare thing, a football match that wouldn't leave us psychologically scarred.

For fifteen minutes, we were pleasantly entertained. Chamberlain saved easily from Cresswell again, Smart saw a well-struck volley blocked, Wooter and Hyde tried a couple of speculative efforts without success. The sun was out, the atmosphere was good (the Wednesday fans, with their band bashing away enthusiastically, are much too noisy for the Premiership), the football was simmering away.

And, after that initial spell, it kept simmering. There was Micah Hyde's sudden break through the middle. Aided by Allan Smart's intelligent header - quite simply, there was no Watford move in this game that wasn't aided by Smart in some small, significant way - the midfielder skipped lightly into the box, waited for Srnicek to advance and lifted the ball over the bar. He wasn't helped by the bounce, and he still should've scored. In the process of diving at Hyde's feet, Srnicek aggravated his shoulder again and was replaced by Pressman.

There was also Cresswell's diving header from a Hinchcliffe cross, which looked like it was going to bounce slowly in until Paul Robinson shuffled into position to block it with his chest. I saw none of that from the Rookery end, noting instead that Chamberlain had saved a De Bilde header, so this paragraph is dedicated to all at "Match Of The Day".

Yes, still simmering. In the space of a minute, we nearly managed to send Wooter and Smart through on goal. At this stage, Wooter was in quite scintillating form, repeatedly demanding the ball on the right and purposefully running at defenders. We are, I think, beginning to see what he's capable of, not only in his ambition but also in his contribution.

On the stroke of half-time, we were treated to the second best moment of the match. Wooter received the ball deep in the Wednesday half and charged. He beat players, he stumbled, he was tackled, he retrieved the ball, he beat more players, he turned back on himself, he was tackled again, he retrieved the ball, he beat more players, he was eventually hauled back by Quinn just as it appeared that he might be about to emerge from the tangle and head for goal. It was fantastic, ridiculous stuff, the result of some lunatic Mooney-Wooter cross-breeding experiment. The point about Wooter is that he should be encouraged to run at opponents when it's appropriate. Peter Kennedy sent the free kick drifting over the bar in unthreatening fashion.

All set up nicely for the second half, then. We'd had the better of things, created one or two respectable chances, played some reasonable football in patches. Damning with faint praise? Well, possibly....

But, as for the second half, there's no damning with faint praise necessary. We can damn with full-blooded damnation. It was awful. It was dreadful. It weren't much good, like.

After five minutes, Wednesday should've taken the lead. It was Neil Cox's error, foolishly trying and failing to beat Jonk on the right despite lack of cover behind him. Cresswell sprinted onto the ball, left defenders trailing and planted a shot into the side netting. It was bloody close, no more than a foot wide of the post...but, as with Hyde earlier, there's no excuse for missing chances like that.

Twenty-five minutes later, something else happened. In that time, what had been quite a lively game had grown old and bitter and bad-tempered. As had everyone watching it. The sun still shone, which wasn't right - it really should've disappeared behind dull, black, snow-bearing clouds and returned us to mid-winter, that frozen pitch at Grimsby.

On and on. And on and on. And on and on. Thump, watch the ball fly through the air. Thump, watch it fly back in the other direction. Thump, and back again. Thump, and back. Thump, and into the stand. "THROW-IN!" says the wobbly text on the big screen, seeking joy in anything it can find. It also has a "GREAT SKILL!" graphic, which could probably have been left at home on this occasion. And on and on. And on and on. Thump, wallop, thump, hoof, thump, wallop, thump, hoof, thump, wallop, thump, hoof. One touch football, certainly, but not quite what Nordin was brought up on at Ajax. Tommy Smith replaced Heidar Helguson, who was about as uninvolved in the proceedings as I was by this time. And on and on. And on and on.

The "something else" that I mentioned a while back was De Bilde volleying a chance at Chamberlain. Steve Palmer headed over from a corner three minutes later. Oooh.

But then, absurdly, stuff started happening. Or, to re-phrase that, absurd stuff started happening. Quite how Wednesday didn't manage to score after thirty-five minutes is something that they're probably still wondering about now. For them, it was painful. For us, it was hilarious - we've had plenty of similar comedy moments in our penalty area this season, but the opposition has always made them seem less amusing by scoring. As the ball dribbled across the six yard box - not once, not twice but three times, courtesy of Alexandersson, Quinn and, most bizarrely of all, Chamberlain - Cresswell dived frantically about like a cat being teased. He needed only the slightest contact to force the ball over the line as it passed by and passed by again and passed by again, yet he made none. Ha ha.

So we took that to mean that Someone Up There wanted us to win. He hasn't wanted us to win very often, clearly, so I shan't overdo the gratitude. Within a couple of minutes, the splendid Smart had volleyed goalwards from Johnson's cross, and we were only denied a fine goal by Pressman's scrambling save. But time was ticking away....

The goal was superb. It was superb because of Smart's perfect, prompting header from Chamberlain's clearance, sending Smith wide and inviting him to run at the defence. It was superb because Smith accepted the invitation, darting at Hinchcliffe and taking advantage of his slip to get to the line. It was superb because the low cross gave Smart the chance to get in front of his marker at the near post, making the finish simple. Most of all, though, it was superb because there were only two minutes left and we were about to win a bloody football match.

We were full of confidence suddenly. Having not looked like scoring for the vast majority of the half, we might've added another goal in the remaining time. Wooter's snap-shot went straight at Pressman, but Smith's brilliant chest control and angled shot deserved better than to end up in the Vic Road stand. Even now, even after enduring all this demoralising crap, it doesn't take much for us to look like we're enjoying ourselves again.

There were many smiling faces at the final whistle, of course. But there was no-one happier than Alec Chamberlain, not having had to pick the ball out of the net for the first time in half a year. Try telling him that this was a meaningless victory.

For a week at least, we can dream of unlikely things. Other things will last more than a week - with the club not only making positive noises but now, with the new season ticket prices, taking positive action as well, it's all a bit rosier than before.

Hooray for the players, hooray for the club. Hooray for us.