Don't let it be Fulham
By Matt Rowson
In the unlikely event that the current tumbling pebbles do start an avalanche which buries Watford's season under a pile of "I told you so"s and denies us automatic promotion, nothing, not even England winning the World Cup, would remotely console the Watford faithful.
Personally, however, I would append any pleas to Lady Luck with the request "...but if it can't be us, then please don't let it be Fulham". From a footballing and personal perspective Fulham's promotion in our stead would not be so much twisting the knife as pulling it out and stabbing again, just to make sure.
More desperately still consider the case of Bristol City who, 1-0 wins at York aside, haven't had a great run of late. The presence of their local rivals in the chasing pack must be an ominous stormcloud on the horizon... equally, the prospect of catching the Robins must be an added boost to Rovers. I know which of these particularly bitter rivals I'd enjoy supporting more at the moment.
Some good news for those of us who have been less than enamoured with the entertainment on offer at the Vic of late... Saturday's opponents are anything but boring. Rovers are, after City, the leading scorers in the division, yet somehow conspired to have a negative goal difference until very recently. Rovers matches have averaged three goals per game since the start of the season.
This is indicative of the "entertaining" approach associated with Tottenham when they were merely average instead of complete rubbish. Note that sides labelled "entertaining" are only rarely particularly good. As with the Tottenham side the entertainment goes hand-in-hand with an abominable lack of discipline, manifested in the yellow-card and suspension tally as well as the bizarre defensive record.
A glance at recent line-ups sheds considerable light on why goals have flowed freely at both ends. Up front, Barry Hayles is a familiar name in other parts of Hertfordshire. Having recently ended a goal drought which earned him some criticism from Pirates' fans, Hayles has nontheless a fine record this season. Expectations are that he will move on in the Summer, probably to Division 1 or the Premiership where his occasional laziness will be less remarkable.
Alongside Hayles last Saturday was the pacy Jamie Cureton, thankfully minus the green hair once sported whilst at Norwich. Cureton may drop back to midfield to face us however, as the legendary Peter Beadle is free from suspension.
I'm not the only one who remembers an end of season tie with Barnsley as the high point of Beadle's otherwise forgettable Watford career. So riled was he by the "uncompromising" approach of Gerry Taggart that his skin turned green, he bust out of his shirt, and played like a dervish for a good half hour, playing no small part in eventual victory.
Beadle's implausible goal tally (not to mention his disciplinary record) this season suggest that Ian Holloway knows the buttons to press to wind him up. Figuratively speaking.
In midfield, player-manager Holloway will also be free from suspension by Saturday, so expect to see him haranguing the ref (albeit in a more "short and indignant" fashion than the lumbering, pompous Waddle). Alongside him, Frankie Bennett is another fast, attacking player, recruited from Southampton. Calling the shots in the middle is another Watford old-boy, the famously moustachioed Gary Penrice, arguably the most controversial of the summer's free transfers and a goalscorer at the Memorial Ground earlier in the season.
In defence, the presence of either the psychotic Jason Perry or the aggressive Dave Pritchard at right-back spells bad news, given that our left wingback options are already limited without help from either of these two. Whilst Tom White and the ex-Woking defender Steve Foster have been patrolling the middle, the outstanding Andy Tillson is likely to have recovered from injury to replace one of these on Saturday.
So too should first choice keeper Andy Collett, injured in a training collision with Barry Hayles. If not, young reserve keeper Shane Higgs is likely to be sporting the dodgiest barnet seen on a goalkeeper at the Vic since the departure of Perry Digweed.
Rovers, clearly a form-driven team, certainly seem to run hot and cold, from a zero-commitment performance at Wrexham one week to an outstanding win over Oldham last weekend. It seems unlikely, in either case, that our run of ground-out results will continue on Saturday, when a few important questions about the rest of the season could be answered.