By Pete Fincham
On the outskirts of Crewe heading home, whilst my fellow passengers and I were deciding on the scores for this most desperate of encounters, Elvis Mark suggested that a certain player's score should be increased on the grounds that "well, he did win a corner!"
Those gathered then reflected on Mark's view and ultimately concurred; the player should get a 2 rather than a 1. Such was the desperation of this game, things like corners were a blessed relief to the magnificent away support. In particular, the first half of this encounter was worse than dire. Memories of Colin Simpson and his performance against Portsmouth, Andy Kennedy at his most lazy, and Barry Ashby with his very best malpositioning were easily comparable to this whole fašade. While performances this season at home to Cheltenham and Notts County could be deemed comparable, at least there was the feeling that progression in the league cup did not matter. League points against lowly Crewe are a must if the aspirations of the club to return to the sycophantic land of the Premiership are to be realised. But from the opening salvos we were never going to win this game.
Taking away a magnificent free kick from Cox, and a "sort of volley" from Helguson, Crewe's huge keeper was relatively untroubled. Both the above efforts were worthy of a goal, but it was in some way justice that we received scant reward from a trip to Cheshire because as far as chances go, that was it. Tommy Smith deserved more than he got by way of luck and service, and on a more generous day he may well have been awarded a penalty, but let's not disguise the fact that at the other end it was simply chaos.
Robinson's injury meant a recall for Gibbs, but even the return of the Watford legend could not plug the gaping holes that have existed all season. And to prove this point, Crewe's opener was intolerably simple. After Gibbs had missed his interception near the half way line, a run, a cross and a tap in for Rodney Jack. So simple. That's how easy it is to beat Watford. The second goal not long afterwards once again exposed the desperate inability to defend anything practised by the opposition. While we seem unable to make our own set pieces tell, we are equally incapable of frustrating similar opposition efforts. The first half almost petered out into a parade of mediocrity, the players desperately needed inspiration from somewhere. The absence of Vernazza clearly emphasised the magnitude of his performances in recent weeks, but with his natural replacement Hyde on the bench, the bemused Kennedy trotted around as woefully as in any time since his 1997 arrival. Perhaps you can now appreciate how appalling the game had become.
One hopes the second half improvement arose out of a familiar Taylor half time lambasting, rather than Crewe's decision to slow the game down. There was a clear improvement after the introduction of Hyde, but for a team with designs on promotion the improvement was dreadfully insufficient. Few chances materialised at either end, and if the only options we have to go for the win involve Steven Armstrong then, without any disrespect to the player, as a club we cannot even begin to conceive that we are capable of anything in the Premier League.
Despite missing GNW, Johnson, Bonnot, Robinson, Smart, Wright, Panayi and Vernazza on Saturday, we still had on show the core team that performed so well earlier in the season. So why the difference now? How can a team play with guts and determination and come away from Yorkshire three times in a six weeks with three points, and fold so dreadfully at Norwich and Crewe within that same time span? While not wanting to speculate on what is exactly going on behind the scenes at Vicarage Road, assuming that Messrs Jekyll and Hyde are alive and well and living in Hertfordshire, I do hope that before we throw everything away this season one or other of these characters takes control, so at least we will know where we stand! It is just getting too depressing to be in this limbo.