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Nationwide Division One, 23/12/00
Huddersfield Town
By Ian Grant

My mum reads this website sometimes and, possibly, isn't the only member of my family to do so. Many of my friends and acquaintances read it too, whether genuinely interested in the fortunes of Watford Football Club or merely using it as an easy source of information on how my life's going.

Of course, there are hundreds of supporters too. Some that I know well, whether virtually or in the flesh, and some that I don't know at all. Some that are visiting for the first time, perhaps as a fan of the opposition or a recent Net convert, and some that have been coming back for six years.

So, this report will be read by people that I like and respect. People that, I hope, like and respect me in return. It might be read by the woman who brought me into this world, just as it might be read by my future, as yet undiscovered, wife. It will undoubtedly be read by many people who, in the absence of any other information, will use it to form an opinion about the kind of person that I am.

It is, therefore, a shame that it must involve a very great deal of shouting and swearing.


Assuming that you're planning on squeezing some enjoyment from the festive season, we'll try not to dwell on the whole sorry mess for too long. It is, after all, the season to be jolly, even if managing that after yesterday's atrocity might require considerable amounts of alcohol.

In particular, we'll avoid thinking too hard about the last Watford performance that might've been this shambolic, shameful and amateurish. It wasn't recent, though - we may not have shone brightly in any of our run of defeats but, Christ, we've not sunk this low before. On too many occasions, a beaten team is heavily criticised for the result alone. This time, they deserve nearly everything that'll be hurled at them.

Even now, I'm using the word "nearly". The reason for that is simple. Whatever the players did yesterday, there was one incident that went beyond even their worst excesses.

The huge cheer that went up when Allan Smart's substitution was announced was absolutely bloody disgraceful. Even leaving past achievements aside, he was one of only a couple of Watford players attempting to participate in something that was vaguely recognisable as football. Unsurprisingly, there was no notable improvement after his departure - he wasn't the problem. That's the kind of sickening, vile thing that you expect to find at the worst Premiership grounds - spoilt, pig-f***ing-ignorant fans with no understanding of the game, except for the rudimentary basics of victory and defeat. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, don't feel obliged to come back.

Not that any of us will be in a great hurry after this. If this is what happens when confidence collapses, we'd be well advised to keep away and ask GT to give us a call when the courses of counselling are completed. My God, this was appalling.

Being a charitable type, I can again forgive the lack of pass-and-move grooviness from a team that's lost all of its previous cheek and verve. The football that we're playing is, to say the least, not pretty. More importantly, it's not even vaguely effective either and, for much of this match, there was nothing but aimless hope. We knew that we needed to win, but we had no idea how that might happen.

Thing is, it might've happened. Naturally, it would've required heaped spoonfuls of luck...but, in the shape of another ludicrous own goal, we got exactly that. Yet it made no difference, simply because our defence was flimsy and pathetic for the entire ninety minutes. That a better side than Huddersfield would've left with four or five goals is disturbing...particularly when you consider that, according to the league table, every side we'll be playing for the rest of the season is better than bloody Huddersfield.

It began in the second minute as our back four stood around and looked vacantly at the linesman while Facey charged through towards goal. You could argue about the validity of the decision - Ndlovu was clearly offside in a central position but ruled not to be interfering with play - but that's hardly the point. Thankfully, Facey's finish was poor, dragging the shot across the face of goal as Espen Baardsen advanced. Still, he needn't have worried - he was to get plenty of other chances.

The game was drab, smelly and ugly, like the newly-crowned City of Wolverhampton. Littered with errors, it only occasionally hinted that anyone might be getting paid for their involvement. Peter Kennedy mis-hit a volley at Vaesen from twenty yards to produce our first shot on target after eight minutes.

Shortly afterwards, Baardsen managed to get a hand to Gallen's close range prod from a corner that had been flicked on at the near post. In all honesty, he shouldn't have been able to do anything about it - had the Town striker made better contact as he swung his boot, he would surely have scored. Again, we were left to stare in disbelief at the ease with which our opponents were able to create clear-cut chances. Despite the presence of the mercurial Ndlovu, there was no magic involved here.

After some briefly rousing support, Vicarage Road was now quietly, but very irritably, settling in for the duration. As Allans Nielsen and Smart managed to lose the ball on the edge of the box by being over-intricate, we heard the same frustrations being voiced again. Attacking the Rookery after the visitors had switched ends, it seemed that we were already chasing three points that were slipping away.

Plenty of hard graft, precious little inspiration. Smart struck a tame half-volley at Vaesen from a tight angle, with no support to give him a better option; Nielsen headed over from Kennedy's cross but was penalised for a push anyway. Then a quite delightful touch from Paolo Vernazza - energetic, imaginative and, of the starting eleven, the only player to come up with anything that you might've bought a ticket to watch - put Smart into a bit of space. Although Vaesen got his fingertips to the low shot that resulted, it was probably going wide anyway. Still, some cause for hope.

Unfortunately - and typically - Huddersfield took the lead within sixty seconds, extinguishing that hope in an almost eerie fashion. Once again, it was a catalogue of errors...but not a catalogue that you'd want to buy anything from, natch. For a start, Paul Robinson nearly succeeded in shinning a harmless cross into his own net. Then Baardsen failed to do anything particularly decisive with the corner and, as the ball was half-cleared, the defence pushed out in an unconvincing, this-is-what-the-boss-says-we-should-do sort of way. That left Ndlovu all on his own to receive the header back into the box and gently flick the ball past the despairing keeper. Everyone watched in silence as it bounced slowly towards the goal and, when it nestled in the bottom corner, that silence was hardly broken by the celebrations of a few hundred visiting fans. What a bloody shambles.

Although, it has to be said, not as much of a bloody shambles as the equaliser. I mean, at least we required some assistance from the opposition when we managed to cock stuff up. Such are the small measures of consolation that we must cling to, sadly.

After Carlton Palmer had headed weakly at Vaesen from Robinson's free kick, the scores were levelled by Heary's howling own goal. There was nothing happening at all as Vernazza floated a fairly aimless ball towards the Huddersfield penalty area. Vaesen came off his line to collect, Heary diligently tracked back to nod it into his keeper's arms. Neither of them took any notice of where the other one was or what they might be doing, and you can imagine the rest. Such a phenomenally stupid goal that you rather expected the referee to disallow it for unprofessional conduct or somesuch.

Of course, we hoped that the general idiocy was at an end. Nope. It had only just begun. It continued with a challenge in midfield by Kennedy that represented his only truly decisive involvement in the game. It was two-footed, over the top of the ball and thoroughly worthy of a red card. He only received a yellow, presumably because the official didn't get an especially good view. Still, an act of complete irresponsibility.

Vincent dragged a long-range effort wide. Smart nearly got onto the end of a Mooney flick and, from the corner, Mooney headed over. Really, this had all the qualities of a particularly dour battle between sides in the relegation zone - mistakes all over the place, horrible passages of purposeless scrapping, hardly anyone with the confidence to spend more than a couple of seconds with the ball at their feet. As the referee looked at his watch, Paul Robinson took a free kick on the halfway line and, without bothering to look, belted it into Steve Palmer's backside from ten yards away. For f***'s sake.

For fifteen minutes at the start of the second half, you felt that this was a game that we could win. Not by actually winning it or anything like that, but just by waiting for Huddersfield to lose it. Ndlovu drove a low shot at Baardsen; substitute Stephen Armstrong volleyed erratically over; Baardsen flicked Vincent's free kick over the bar just to be sure.

Then, complete despair. As Facey bounced eagerly towards goal, Steve Palmer kicked air and fell on his arse when given the opportunity to intervene. Robinson was next in line, succeeding only in missing the ball with a challenge so weak that you had to double-check which player was responsible. Immediately, Facey smacked a shot towards goal...and, to add insult to injury, Baardsen was beaten at his near post. The idea of defenders is, presumably, to prevent the opposition from scoring rather than merely make sure that someone's around to watch them doing it.

On a scale of one to ten, the rest was zero and eleven at the same time, and really bloody awful. To put it into properly punctuated and constructed English is to do it an honour that it doesn't deserve. Yes, we had opportunities to equalise - again, mainly thanks to the thoroughly cack-handed Vaesen - and were slightly unfortunate not to take at least one of them. However, our defending deteriorated to the point where you began to wonder if we shouldn't simply abandon it altogether.

Take Darren Ward, for example. You know, Darren Ward - "he's big, he's tall, he always wins the ball". What the hell is going on there, then? The player who once made John Hartson pull out of a fifty-fifty challenge is now being brushed aside by all and sundry. After twenty minutes, a completely harmless ball over the top nearly resulted in a second goal for Facey, who received barely a murmur of protest as he waltzed past Ward and others to reach it first. Having got there, he poked the ball goalwards and only Baardsen's left foot got in the way. I mean, what is that all about? Are we so deep into our depression that we can't even put up a fight when someone tries to muscle us out of the way? Are we even aware of what's happening around us?

There were moments, of course. Had we grabbed an equaliser, we might've gone on to win it. Then again, we thought we'd go on to win it when the first equaliser dribbled in. Three points wouldn't have made the performance any better, they would simply have made it disappear altogether.

Offering compliments of the season, Vaesen managed to catch and drop a hanging cross in front of Heidar Helguson. The striker - who is no longer a special case, in that he needs a goal about as much as everyone else apart from Mooney needs a goal - thumped it goalwards, only to find that a defender had got back to divert the effort around the post. From the corner, it was Mooney's turn to be denied - after the ball had bounced around for a while, his shot was blocked on the line and muted appeals for handball were waved away.

That sudden, unexpected burst of pressure should've heralded a full-on assault. It didn't, though. After failing to score, our heads went down again and, apart from one or two players (Vernazza and Armstrong spring to mind), we continued resorting to the most basic methods imaginable. Gallen volleyed acrobatically over, Carlton Palmer headed tamely at Vaesen. We were losing badly, and we didn't know what to do about it.

Indeed, Huddersfield might've rubbed salt into our already weeping wounds. Quite simply, we couldn't stop them - even the most basic defending seemed to have stopped being in any way natural to us. So, again, everyone stood and stared at the linesman as Gallen broke down the right wing before wastefully prodding a shot wide. He headed at Baardsen shortly afterwards.

You have to draw a line in the sand, ultimately. Set some targets, some fundamental standards that won't ever be compromised. If you can't always play constructive, attractive football elsewhere on the pitch, that's fair enough. You can at least dominate your own territory. Whatever his faults, it's difficult to imagine Robert Page ever allowing opponents to pass the ball around inside our penalty area without meeting with a challenge. Forget the football club, that's about taking pride in yourself. After forty-three minutes, Facey again pushed Ward away to get in a cross from the left. No Watford player touched the ball as it was knocked around inside the box, finally reaching Holland for an angled blast that was pushed over by Baardsen. Disgraceful.

By that stage, Tommy Smith's belated arrival had brought minor excitement at the Vic Road end. With Armstrong sticking to the left touchline, we were at least able to play with some balance - Vernazza had done well on the right, without convincing anyone that he wasn't being played completely out of position. Although Smith nearly netted after Vaesen had managed to spill a weak shot from Vernazza, it was too late. Thinking of the future and possible solutions to these desperate problems, however, the fact that we still have players - Armstrong, Vernazza, Smith - capable of standing up for themselves is surely something to build from.

People booed at the end. This is not surprising.

As previously noted, this was completely off the f***ing scale. The faces in the pub afterwards were beyond despondent. There was virtually nothing to cling to here, no sign that we will ever be able to win a football match again. We will, of course....

There's little more to say. No constructive criticism, no sensible conclusion. If you've made it this far, I admire your dedication.

Happy sodding Christmas, one and all.