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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
00/01: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 19/8/00
Watford
versus
Barnsley
 
Will the real Geoff Thomas please stand up?
By Olly Du Croz

Watford always play better in the sun. Whether it be in August or May, it cannot be denied that our strength comes from that big yellow (coincidence?) ball in the sky. My fears were heightened by mid-week reports of rain being forecast for the weekend, but - in keeping with the rule that the sun has to appear for each club's opening home match - Saturday came and as soon as dawn broke Barnsley might as well not have turned up.

All right, so maybe I'm expanding on the truth, but with a perfect six points from six to begin our assault on Division One I'm entitled to feel a little rosy about things. The match wasn't brilliant throughout, but there were tantalising flashes of what this team can produce. Expectation is rising, and we lie in wait of what will unfold at Vicarage Road over the coming months.

It is hard to know what to say about the game itself. In short, for 89 minutes it looked destined to be heading for a frustrating 0-0 draw, and then one magical swing of Dominic Foley's left peg made Vicarage Road erupt with relief.

What an unlikely hero after last season's disinterested showing from the Irishman, not to mention his formerly non-existent first touch. On Saturday he played with desire, skill and interest. This could be his time to mature - especially after scoring goals on the international scene this summer - but when all our strikers are fit I can't see him getting many matches.

Although his limited opportunities may be a personal disappointment it shows that we have a squad to challenge for promotion, not just a team. Baardsen and Nielsen have added some genuine quality to a youthful squad that mixes determination with enthusiasm. Who knows which players will prove to be the stars of the season, but at least we have many potential contenders.

To be honest, we weren't really that great on Saturday, but enjoyed the lion's share of possession and chances because, basically, we were playing a Barnsley side that looked like it will struggle to match last season's qualification for the play-offs.

There is much more to come from both the team's performance level and the treatment room. However, what must not happen is that we begin to expect five-star performances and comfortable victories every week. We will lose games, players will suffer from bad form, but the club will still progress.

Clint Easton, for example, had a disastrous game, but it's not the end of the world (as a man behind me in the Rookery seemed to think). He doesn't deserve to be thrown on the scrap-heap and he will improve. There were five young home-grown players starting the match; they will make mistakes through inexperience but they are the future of the club and must not be destroyed by incessant barracking from a minority of over-expectant fans.

Thankfully this season we will not be punished for a bit of slackness in defence, which will give players a chance to mature without having their confidence wrecked. The back four were good on Saturday, but there is no way they were good enough to have kept a clean sheet against most Premiership clubs.

The great thing about Watford now is that we have the potential to score lots of goals. Two claims for blatant penalties were turned down by an unbelievably weak Mr. Crick, and if Wooter had lasted the whole game he would have created many more chances.

The game's most memorable moment was not, however, Foley's late strike, but a piece of comic perfection towards the end of the first half. Just minutes after Geoff Thomas was brought on for Barnsley, the ball fell to Adrian Moses on the edge of the box and - obviously as a result of meticulous training from the most infamous of former England internationals - the ball was sliced wide for a throw-in. Making thousands of people laugh must never have been so embarrassing.

As for the rest of the match, Wooter's direct running and ability on the ball gave Barnsley's Carl Regan a torrid time for 45 minutes. All our good work came down the right through him as the rest of the midfield struggled to get into the game. If he was injured let's all hope it is not serious, and if he wasn't then we witnessed one of the greatest managerial errors of all time. Palmer toiled as hard as ever with limited success, and Nielsen showed only flashes of the player he will be when he adjusts to life in Division One.

Tommy Smith looked determined to add to his opening day strike, probably spurred on by the news that Helguson has been made favourite by the bookies to be the division's top scorer. Smith may well have a better claim to that crown than most other strikers when it's all over next May.

At the back, Robbo's two goal-saving blocks made up for some absolute howlers as he searched for consistency. Ward had another massive game as he establishes himself in the a central defensive pairing that will hopefully last for a while, and Neil Cox is proving to be the player we all hoped he was after a dodgy start midway through last season.

Even though we weren't great, six points after a week of the season is nothing to complain about. The performances will improve, but at least we have had the ability and fortune to turn both tricky matches into wins. Hopefully the victories will continue, and Saturday gave me no reason to think otherwise.

More importantly, what Division One offers is the hope of great moments such as that classically graceful shot from Mr. Moses. Who needs the Premiership?