How to upstage the old stager
Hugh McIlvanney at Vicarage Road
The word was that two men, not one, would be entering retirement at Vicarage Road and if young Martin Patching does quit the Football League now because of chronic physical damage there is no doubt that his last experience of it will furnish more pleasant memories than Bob Paisley took away from the final hour and a half of the most successful career any British club manager has ever known.
During his nine seasons in charge at Anfield Paisley has taken six League championships, three European Cups, one Uefa Cup, and three League Cups. But the latest title was won so early that his team lost all momentum and, by the time they ran out at Watford, they were heading for an additional record they did not want: their worst run of results since before the days of Bill Shankly.
Liverpool had lost four and drawn two of their previous six matches and when Watford went two goals in front by the forty-ninth minute the champions looked sure to give the great man in the stands the worst possible valediction.
At last, however, they began to rediscover some of the urgent rhythm that had spreadeagled the First Division and Watford began to suffer the rigours of siege as they surrendered one goal and battled desperately to hold out the equiliser.
The romantics in the home crowed - and they are bound to constitute a majority among a support who have seen their heroes move from the Fourth Division to the First Division and now into Europe in five years - began to wonder if Martin Patching would, after all, be denied the kind of farewell to the big time that even the editors of the Rover might have considered extravagant.
The ligaments of the 24-year-old midfield player's right knee have been so grotesquely wrecked by injury that he has undergone two operations so serious that doctors have told him there is only one case known to them (that of an amaateur(sic) rugby man) in which recovery has been good enough to permit a continuation of a sporting career.
Patching has come to admit that he cannot cope with a full programme of League games. Indeed, he says that when the knee is bad he has to make three-point turns on the right side. So he has applied for the compensation due to him through the League and taken a pub in the Hertfordshire village of Potten End.
But before going off to draw the pints he made a flourish he will never forget against Liverpool yesterday. Forty minutes had been played, and Watford's persistent thrust had already taken them close to a goal with the header from the immensely impressive Barnes that Grobbelaar athletically touched round the post, when Blissett offered a pass that set Patching running through the inside-right position towards goal.
Hansen should have tackled him conclusively but the Scot was having an extraordinarily miserable afternoon and his lunge missed hopelessly. Patching needed no more encouragement and he strode on to shoot high into the net while Grobbelaar was still thinking about closing on him.
It was not in the least astonishing that Graham Taylor, the Watford manager, should be striving at the end to persuade such a handy member of his squad to remain in football.
Injury caused Lawrenson to be replaced by Nicol after the interval and Sims's withdrawal on the hour brought in Lohman but these changes could not explain the pattern of the second half. It had gone only four minutes when Liverpool's embarrassment was substantially increased.
Franklin, having his first league match, used a long ball to release Barnes on the right and his centre created inordinate confusion in Grobbelaar's six-yard box. Blissett was outnumbered three to one as he scuffled for possession near the goal line but his challengers were so ineffective that the ball ultimately bounced off Grobbelaar and rolled into the net.
Perhaps Watford felt then that they could relax and celebrate in the bright sunshine. Perhaps Liverpool were stirred by a guilty realisation of what they were doing to Bob Paisley. What is certain is that the home players lost the initiative entirely for a while and almost lost their lead.
But they took credit from limiting Liverpool to the goal scored in the sixty-second minute. Johnston, having made a break along the left and shaken off Sims, aimed the ball over Sherwood's head from near the byline. If Johnston intended a cross, he was granted a handsome bonus, for the ball floated under the crossbar.
Watford: Sherwood; Rice, Rostron, Patching, Sims, Franklin, Callaghan, Blissett, Barnes, Jackett, Sterling.
Liverpool: Grobbelaar; Neal, Kennedy, Lawrenson, Thompson, Hansen, Dalglish, Lee, Hodgson, Johnston, Souness.
Referee: A W Grey (Great Yarmouth)
Report from the Observer, supplied by David Fisher