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Playing without fear
By Ben Buston
This season seems to have flashed by in the blink of an eye. Way too quick for my liking and with the exception of the first two hours and fifteen minutes, bizarrely relaxed and easy. It was obvious from the Cardiff game onwards that there was no way we were going down and it was only really for about forty-five minutes at home to Millwall that we could entertain any kind of realistic ambition of automatic promotion. Rather than the expected white-knuckle rollercoaster ride, it was more of a well-organised floating up to the higher echelons of the division and a calm refusal to leave the top six. On occasions, we were the best side in the league but rarely did we play in a way that didn't deserve to make the playoffs. This has been a year when the football gods didnt so much smile on us as invite us round their house, give us a full body massage, a bottle of champagne and a cigar and still pay for the taxi home.

Because as the famous Monty Python character said, we have been so lucky lucky lucky. Not in terms of results, which were more than deserved, but in terms of how this has all panned out. This whole thing was such a huge gamble and came so close to blowing up in our faces. After all, it was only that lame Stoke side with nothing to play for last season that saved us. Aidy didn't have the experience for the job of saving us from relegation. But the football gods were kind to us and we survived. Then followed the farcical recruitment policy that made Viallli look like a good judge of burnt-out, talent-starved wastes of space. Sietes, Junior, Griffiths, Devaney...but equally amazingly, the first wave of dross was accompanied by signings of pure inspiration. King, Foster, Carlisle, Mackay, Spring, Henderson. Not so much a spine as a six-man army. Again, lady luck smiling on us, although the credit has to go to Aidy for this. We were lucky they chose us...but let's face it, it was Aidy who chose them. What I'd conclude from all this is that Aidy's weakness is that he finds it hard to judge a player without working with him on the training pitch. Trevor Benjamin was another example of his inability to pick a player he hadn't (as far as I know) trained with.

Once the team was assembled, our lack of injuries was the final huge piece of luck we needed. We only had three decent strikers but almost invariably, two of them were fit and we've rarely fielded an eleven where I didnt believe in every single player. If Jordan Stewart's our worst first team player, then we are bloody lucky! In any case, I like Jordan, he's coming back to form and has shown immense character playing with the pressure of the boo-boys on his back.

But that was all the luck we needed. The rest was down to the team, but two men in particular. Marlon King, a great man who'd lost his way and needed a home where he could let his football do the talking. Aidy and Watford have given him that. He's been a trojan this season and his goals haven't been the half of it. The movement, power, creativity and general terror he inspires in opposition defences are worth more to me than those twenty-one goals. If you're playing against Marlon King, you know that even to draw the game you have to score. For Marlon, this season has been about redemption and the exorcising of demons. On top of his raw and beautiful talent, he has shown incredible strength of character. I doubt he'll be with us for more than another year but we shouldnt get less than three million for him and it's been a privilege for us to have him down the Vic. So thank you, Marlon.

Then, of course, we come to our special one. Words can't express the gratitude I feel for Aidy, for what he's done. At the beginning of the season, and especially after that Preston game, none of us could have put our hand on our hearts and anticipated what the man would achieve here. Really, it's more than a miracle. He's created probably the third best Watford team of all time virtually out of thin air. Who knows where Aidy will go or what he will achieve, but thank god he started it here! We were staring into the abyss at the end of last season and now we have a squad that even without him would survive in the Championship for two or three years. We start next season knowing for sure that we won't be playing in League One the year after. I think Aidy would have to be crazy to move over the summer and really should spend the next two years consolidating what he's achieved and bringing through his young squad. That would then be a solid base for him to move on from. A difficult start as a Premiership manager could leave him out on his arse by Christmas. What I'm trying to say here is 'PLEASE DONT LEAVE US JUST YET!' I could really get used to a couple more years of this! There's also the question of repaying the faith and loyalty the board showed in him. I think Aidy is too big a man to walk away from that.

I believe the players have acheived all that we could possibly have expected of them this year; even if we lose 4-0 home and away to Palace, I'll cheer them off the pitch at the end with a lump in my throat 'cause this season they've really done us proud. But they have the potential to do so much more.

As for Aidy, his season really starts now. I don't buy all this rubbish about the playoffs being a lottery. I believe the best prepared team with the best tactics will go up. Preston have the best form, Leeds have the best fans, Palace have the best squad and we have the best player and the best manager. We can do it. But to do that we have to play to the far limits of our potential. We have to be able to keep our shape and our heads under intense pressure, to attack with joy and freedom and most importantly to play without fear. For us, these two games against Palace should be an opportunity for the fans and players to celebrate what we've achieved this season. If the performances against Palace reflect that acheivement and are a celebration of our ability, our good organisation, our free flowing attacking football and our three lethal goalscorers, I'll see you all in Cardiff.

Good luck lads, but win or lose, you'll be getting a standing ovation at the end. You've all been heroes this season. Thanks for an unforgettable year.