By Pete Fincham
Somewhere in a rented house in South Yorkshire, a tall, balding and loyal Welshman can afford himself a chuckle as he reads the Division One results in the Sunday papers. Elsewhere around the country, many other people will observe the simple statistics in front of them, and with a similar chuckle, wonder what the hell is going on at Watford Football Club. Some of us know the answer, not least those who were most visible victims of the WFC purge of 2001. For others, however, the reality is starting to catch up with them; and the intense booing from the true Watford faithful at the end of this horror show of a game must be the biggest indication yet that what has happened to the team and club since May this year is not roundly applauded by the core Watford support. Indeed, for those fans of football that believed all along that footballing success - with the exception of Blackburn - cannot be purchased, must unhappily feel vindicated by the events of the last week.
The state of mind I had entered into by 5pm on Saturday can best be put into two words. "I booed". This was not an isolated few. Many hundreds felt compelled to accept Vialli's invitation to vent their fury at such a performance through the medium of booing, but fortunately most people stopped briefly to show their thanks to Paul Robinson and Tommy Smith who cannot be faulted for effort, if not always their end product. Quite clearly, several hours on, I am not ashamed; but I cannot help but think that it is not actually the players who should be on the end of that sort of send off. For Vialli once again has felt that the game was actually quite good, and we were unlucky not to get something from it. Well, yippee, we are unlucky not to get a point from a team who have plummeted to the basement of Division One, have recently been beaten 4-0 at home by Wimbledon, and were frankly as terrible as we were. Excellent, I am glad that we were just unlucky not to get something from a game in which the players and back-stage set up of the away team was over ten times as valuable as anything the home side could put out. And that was without Nielsen, Wooter and Galli to consider. Unlucky! Unlucky, Mr. Vialli, is to be stuck with the untreatable mental illness of supporting a club that can let its manager make statements straight from the marijuana tree! On hearing the latest supportive comments of the performance, I did indeed think for a moment that I had been teleported back to Suzies Saloon in Amsterdam and was flying high on Amsterdam's finest.
Two defeats in five days brings up four away league defeats in a row, the worst start to an away campaign since 1980. Twenty-one years! That puts this whole scenario into perspective. We have had the worst away start to a campaign since before my first Watford game. Three defeats in eight days leaves Watford with only three league wins all season, against (let us remind ourselves) two newly promoted sides and ten man Wimbledon. One league goal has been scored - or rather one league goal has been walked into the net - while conceding eight goals in four away games, suggesting that the expensive plugs purchased to block the leaky defence of last term have got the same leaks themselves. with just a more expensive price tag. Facts that don't favour the benign claptrap that seems to spurt from post-match press conferences.
The game started brightly, however, with the team adopting yet another formation of 3-5-2. The amount of shots on goal in the ninety minutes suggested that there have been a few lessons learnt from the abhorrent display at Norwich, where attacking through the process of shooting seemed to have been totally forgotten. Sodje's early yellow card for a foul on Vernazza and an early Cox header from a Glass corner indicated, quite correctly, that Watford were the brighter side for the first twenty minutes. Issa shot wide from thirty yards and Tommy Smith saw a shot from another Glass cross easily saved by Bankole, encouraging the optimism. However, Smith's second chance - a weak header straight at Bankole from another Glass cross - suggested that just teasing the opposition was not going to be enough. Fisken, Vernazza and Gayle all tried from distance; while at the other end Baardsen saved well from Little, and when Hulse fluffed a shot from inside the box there was certainly a game going on. But the booking of Glass for a clumsy foul on Jack effectively was the point the game changed. Moments later, after Robinson was alleged to have committed a foul by the corner flag, Smith crossed in the free kick for Hulse to pop home from two yards. Confusion reigned, and Crewe were 1-0 up.
At that moment, the team seemed to disappear from the game. My notes at the time read "Stopped shooting, playing and running".
A fifty yard run from Tommy Smith, in which he beat three men, was only ended by the same three men squashing him on the edge of the area, and the half ended to a chorus of disappointment from the away end. This was disappointing. Not because we were losing, but because Crewe were so terrible it made it difficult to even conceive that we will play such a poor side again this season.
Stephen Hughes warmed up throughout the interval and, when the teams re-emerged, he replaced Fisken for what must be one of the shortest substitute appearances ever. Moments after his introduction, Hughes was clearly elbowed to the floor by the gangly defender Foster, and as realisation struck the Crewe player feigned the most pathetic attempt at coming off worse from the "challenge". For five minutes, Hughes received treatment before being rushed to hospital suffering the after affects of a clearly intended elbow to the head. Danson, an official who has been involved in three of the last five Watford games, waved a yellow card at Foster in quite a comical manner. What did he get booked for? Surely the referee cannot have failed to have missed the elbow, but the linesman who was five yards away calmly turned away from the controversy, evidently happy in his role as a passive observer rather than paid official.
With Helguson replacing Hughes, Watford reverted to 4-4-2, and after Issa received his customary booking as Jack fell into Paul Robinson(!), Gayle provided the only shot of the game to actually trouble the keeper, a thirty yard shot that Bankole comfortably tipped over. Something approaching panic appeared to set in, as the game neared the inevitable conclusion. An unconvincing punch from Bankole from a Cox free kick found Smith, but his weak lob found Sodje on the line to chest back to the keeper. Another Gayle shot from a twenty yard free kick tested Bankole, but not sufficiently for anyone to get excited. All around, mutterings of "Fanny Football" could be heard, as the team were reduced to weak pot shots, and more passing backwards to progress nowhere. Another fine Smith run ended abruptly at the edge of the area, and in the final salvos Helguson had a header well saved, enabling Baardsen to come up for the last corner of the match.
Inevitably the final whistle blew, and from the way the players reacted, it was clear that some were absolutely shocked at not only their performance, but also the reaction from the stand. But this was a sickeningly inept performance when one considers the opposition, and any calls to give the team time to bed themselves in will now fall on deaf ears. There have been well over two months since they first got together in July, and such disjointed performances can only mean that all is fundamentally not well. The continued changing of formations is clearly not to the benefit of those actually playing the game, and one wonders why in one game a team can muster so few chances on goal, and yet five days later have seventeen attempts (with ten on target) at goal. I am convinced that there is a clear game plan in place. But so far the evidence suggests it is the wrong game plan.
So far, the evidence suggests that there is a lot wrong with the Watford plan so far this season. There is a ducking of responsibility from all main players in this sickening scenario, and this is the time for both players and management alike to stop the rot here and now, as the idea of Birmingham gaining from another ninety minutes of chaos makes me ill.