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Cut adrift
By Ian Grant
It's not a particularly hard job, is it? Not much of a challenge for a "progressive young manager", all things considered.

After all, once you've finished cutting the wage bill by a quarter every summer, cobbling together a squad with whatever the directors might be prepared to donate to the cause, and trying to keep Watford Football Club in an extremely competitive, tight division while a large section of the support grumbles at your failure to recreate the football produced by their preferred Ajax vintage, what is there to do, except to whack your feet up on the desk, stifle a yawn and watch Countdown on the office portable?

What is there to do, except to get fired for your trouble?

You already know how I feel about this. There are words - thousands and thousands of words - that I could dump from brain to screen via keyboard, and some of them, specifically the heartfelt and sincere thanks that Ray Lewington has earned during the last three troubled, difficult years, will doubtless follow in due course. But all that can wait: let Graham Simpson's empty tribute echo around for a little while first, uncomfortable and embarrassing and plainly inadequate.

Ever realistic, Lewington often joked about the inevitability of this moment in a manager's career, just as Simpson was sometimes heard to comment that the issue would be how to hold onto the manager rather than how to get rid of him. In a strange way, the chairman got it right: other managers would've put themselves first, kept ahead of the merry-go-round, been gone before this situation arose. Ray Lewington, you suspected, was here for as long as we wanted and needed him. For many of us, cut adrift by today's news, it doesn't feel as if either of those criteria have yet expired.

Of course, Saturday was utterly ghastly. For the first time in his tenure at Vicarage Road, it seemed as if those who wanted to oust Ray Lewington might have some ammunition to back up their demands. Previously, when pressed on particulars, there was precious little of substance, and the argument didn't have to last for very long before his critics attached quite extraordinary importance to the idea that the manager was a "nice man" or, more recently, that he wasn't any good at tea-throwing. Even during last season's darkest days, Lewington clearly had the players with him when it mattered; even as recently as Tuesday (and doesn't that seem like a long time ago), he had enough of their hearts and minds to produce a positive, upbeat forty-five minutes and a two goal lead by half-time. That ain't a lost cause.

Only on Saturday did it appear that the players weren't responding, that they were drifting quietly away. That's enough, apparently. When the club could have been emphatic and positive and certain and courageous in its response, when it could've urged everyone to unite to finish the season's task in hand, it has instead chosen to stir up yet more turmoil and confusion. Bravo. Bra-bloody-vo. The aim, presumably, is to cause sufficient chaos to whip the players into a frenzy that'll generate enough points to avoid a catastrophic descent into Division Three...because it's very hard indeed to believe that such a rushed, ridiculously timed appointment process can be beneficial in the longer term.

As Dave Messenger has already pointed out - to great displeasure in certain quarters, it has to be said - the conditions for the incoming manager will be much the same. Worse, in fact, assuming that we've had to pay a year of Ray Lewington's wages to get rid of him. They'll inherit a squad that's been hacked back to bare wood, that could never have hoped to survive the injuries that have now bitten further; a squad that'll be savaged even more in the summer, yet still, presumably, be expected either to retain or achieve Second Division status. It's hard to imagine how the new manager might find a different, better approach to all of that, except to stick their fingers in their ears, shut their eyes tight, and pretend that they're José Mourinho. There is no approach. There's just reality, and the reality is that our squad has finally been pulled apart at the seams, stuffing spilling everywhere.

That's not the board's fault...well, not entirely. It is, however, the board's responsibility, and it doesn't sit at all well. Over the last three years, they've enjoyed the reflection of Ray Lewington's dependable, straightforward pragmatism, and the club as an organisation has appeared to take on many of those characteristics, to its considerable benefit even in hard, tough times. Now, one has to wonder whether that sense of confident pragmatism was just a reflection, nothing more. One can only wonder whether there is an end to this, or whether we'll always be forced to accept objectionable, dishonourable decisions out of gratitude for our continued existence, no matter how sorry and worthless that existence becomes. It's been an eye-opening experience, this last week. I feel older, angrier, less naive...and very tired indeed.

Back in the summer, before the season kicked off, I wrote of feeling "the heat of the sun after a long winter" if we could find a way through this campaign intact. Of how survival would bring "genuine, heartfelt optimism" for the future. That summer is only seven games away, and yet it feels more remote than ever today. Oh, I know what we, as supporters, should do. What the club appears to feel that we're obliged to do, what it'll urge and demand of us over the next couple of weeks. Seven games, two wins, survival.

I know it. But in my heart, I don't feel it.