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Gone but not forgotten:
Carlton Palmer
Position: Midfielder
From: Coventry City - on loan - December 2000
Record: Played: 5 Scored: 0
To: Coventry City - recalled from loan - January 2001
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: What we needed

When it comes to making important decisions, I'm a great believer in flipping a coin. Simply because it exposes your gut feeling, it by-passes all the other garbage. You either get the result that you want on the first flip or you get into the whole "best of three" area...but, either way, you know what you really want to do.

Of course, none of us would like to believe that Graham Taylor resorts to such things. Surely he's too strong, too confident? Surely he always knows what he wants and needs to do? Well, perhaps. Or maybe he's human like the rest of us, maybe he occasionally needs to be prodded in the right direction.

If so, Carlton Palmer was the footballing equivalent of coin-flipping. He was brought in on loan as the Hornets, having made a superb start to the First Division promotion campaign, suffered a spectacular slump in form that sent them plummeting towards mid-table. Never exactly lacking in self-confidence or belief in his own opinions, he was clearly intended to create some friction in the dressing room. Whether the other players followed or rejected his leadership, they were going to be forced to make decisions.

It worked. Sort of. Never a particularly tidy player, with great long legs that sometimes enabled him to tackle opponents from ten yards away and sometimes just got tangled up underneath him, Palmer certainly added a bit of steel to the midfield. At the very least, he was always fiercely competitive, something that made him stand out from a team that was looking increasingly sorry for itself. His presence didn't immediately improve the results - we threw away a lead to draw against West Brom, were abject in defeat against struggling Huddersfield, and were thoroughly humiliated by Fulham. But it didn't make them any worse either.

Really, when the losing sequence finally came to an end at Barnsley, it had more to do with Graham Taylor than Carlton Palmer. By establishing the simplest of formations, with a clearly defined role for each player, the manager eventually stopped the rot. We looked like we knew what we were doing, at last.

With the corner turned, however, Palmer began to look like he might be a key asset. In the subsequent home victory over Wimbledon, he was quite magnificent - a colossal presence in the midfield that snuffed out any danger long before it reached our penalty area. When we played Everton in the FA Cup, his absence (due to loan conditions) appeared crucial as we lost control in the second half, badly missing his leadership and commanding presence.

We hoped to have him for another two months, and already there was talk of a permanent signing. But he was recalled by Coventry as injuries bit into their squad.

Carlton Palmer's reputation is not always greatly flattering. There were a few raised eyebrows when he arrived at Vicarage Road. But there were far more than a few disappointed murmurs when he left...because, while he can't take sole credit for the reversal of our fortunes, he was here when it happened and he did more than his share. Perhaps he didn't make many friends, but he certainly converted a few critics.

When the coin was flipped, we decided that perhaps we did want to be promoted after all....