By Pete Fincham
As the referee looked at his watch, Rupe was heard to utter "This is not right. You can't sing Boy George and win 3-0"! He is right. Normally, such Boy George melodies are reserved for late night reminiscence of the 1980s while trying to stagger drunkenly around a nightclub, looking for something edible! Boy George is not meant for the terraces, or even the stands. But in a way, as the Watford male voice choir entered into the second verse of "Karma Chameleon", having previously produced a delightful rendition of the "Only Fools and Horses" theme tune, the tune seemed strangely appropriate in the context of Saturday.
Grimsby is quite a long way from Watford, and serves as an acid test of supporter feeling towards the recent performances. In a normal season, you will get the hardy band of between five and six hundred, but if we are doing well, that figure will be significantly higher. Grimsby is one of those away trips that attracts generally the mad, and as such, for Rupe and I, it is one of those fixtures that we look for every June. We make sure that whatever happens, we travel to this one together. It is simply one of the few locations where the changes that have occurred throughout football over the years seem strangely absent. Whether the long lonely road into Cleethorpes running parallel to the railway line, or the long rail ride from Doncaster (unsurprisingly running parallel to the road), the experience that is Grimsby is surreal from the moment you leave the confines of South Yorkshire.
The now customary trip to "Willy's", and all its different vodka, real ale and absinthe combinations, was as warmly inviting as ever. But the short trip to the ground past rows of shops that look more at home in a 1970s period drama ensures that the time-warp that is Grimsby continues to be emphasised throughout the day.
Away days so far this season have been horrendous and recently predictable. Until Saturday, Watford had been terrible on the road, almost without exception. But the claptrap that seemed to emanate from the post-match press conferences suggested that we had gone to a completely different match. Fortunately there can be no confusion over which game we watched on Saturday, as Watford were simply fantastic for the first sixty-five minutes of an enthralling game of football, to end their miserable away form in emphatic style.
If one were to look at the goals on the TV or website, all three reflect the changes that the team has put into practice in the last few weeks. Gone are those desperately inept passing moves that go nowhere slowly, as what was witnessed on Saturday was quick passing movements with purpose; and when it mattered, the team looked for the simple, and ultimately effective, solution.
Micah Hyde was simply outstanding, scoring his two goals with composure and elegance, while the energetic Tommy Smith and GNW quite clearly had the advantage over their opponents. However, the defensive display was also very encouraging, as a defensive unit was clearly visible for perhaps the first time away from home this season, while the attacking options that stemmed from this previously absent composure were endless.
Watford threatened from the very beginning, as Hyde's well-timed run onto a Robinson through-ball had Danny Coyne in the Grimsby goal on his toes as early as the third minute. A bizarre refereeing decision gifted Watford a great chance on the quarter hour as the referee awarded a free-kick at the ten yard mark after Broomes' stretched clearance of Blondeau's cross ended up with Coyne, who quite legally picked up the ball. Referee Kaye considered the pick up illegal, but from the resulting freekick, Hughes blasted high and wide.
The home fans were briefly elated two minutes later as Jevons slotted past Baardsen into an empty net, but relief for the travelling Hornets was found with the linesman's flag being raised early. This seemed to sting the visiting team into action, as moments later Watford took the lead with a very simple goal. GNW flicked on from a deep ball forward, sending Tommy Smith away down the right wing. The great low cross that followed found Micah Hyde deep at the back post, and the midfielder fired home from six yards out with his left foot. Cue wild celebrations in front of the away fans including multi-player bundle into front row!
Ten minutes later, a quick Grimsby break ended with on-loan defender Alan Neilson shooting hard at Baardsen, who did well to keep the effort out. This was effectively was Grimsby's last serious attempt on goal for half an hour, as Watford took complete and decisive control.
The sublime play in midfield was characterised by Noble who on forty minutes produced one of the most astonishing pieces of skill by a Watford player. The drag back, step over and cross combination left away fans and team-mates alike absolutely astonished at not only the skill, but the cheek of the on-loan midfielder. And after forty-three minutes, he went one better, as GNW lifted another long ball over the Grimsby defence, with Noble running onto the through ball with more hope than expectation. As Coyne came out, he managed to get to the ball first, looping the ball around the keeper, before walking the ball onto the goal line. Defenders and keeper stopped and watched, while the midfielder almost teased the away fans, before calmly whacking an unstoppable shot into the empty net from all of a yard! The celebration mimicked the first goal, except this time Robinson's vault over Noble, ended with Glenn in the front row getting a thick lip from the enthusiastic Watford defender.
As a prelude to this goal, Adrian started a conversation about how he would feel more a part of Watford, rather than an on-loan player, if he had his own song. As "Karma Chameleon" was to prove later on, many new tunes were introduced on Saturday, and as such, to the tune of the Pompey Chimes, we settled on "Sign up Noble, Noble sign up!". Simple, but effective, and this new song of praise rang out around the away end until the half-time whistle blew.
After the break, the away side did not let up. With almost uncanny repetition of the first goal, Watford went 3-0 up shortly before the hour mark. This time GNW held the ball up before releasing Tommy Smith down the left flank, and yet again a superb piece of unselfish skill found Hyde at the back post, who slipped the ball into a net past a despondent Coyne.
Having made the game as safe as possible, Issa made his first appearance in a nearly a month, coming on for Hyde. Unfortunately, Grimsby seemed to take advantage of the shake-up in the team and came close to pulling one back when, after a comical series of shots, blocks and general mayhem, the ball broke to Rowan, who shot just wide of the back post. With Smith and GNW being replaced by Wooter and Helguson, the attacking impetus was also lost, as quite deliberately Watford closed out the game with professionalism, if not the attacking charisma of earlier in the game.
Despite the change in play, it still should have been another 4-0 defeat for Lennie Lawrence against Watford, when, in an almost exact imitation of Hyde's goals, Glass crossed for Helguson at the back post. The striker had provided the initial pass out to the Scot, but connected weakly with the final ball and Coyne collected easily.
A rasping shot from Wooter kept Coyne busy until the final whistle, but by then the chants of "You might as well go home" had been replaced by the Boy George cover that will live in the memory as being particularly bizarre yet somehow appropriate.
A strangely beautiful sunset filled the sky on the journey towards Nottingham where many of the WIFC team spent a thoroughly enjoyable night out, before recording their first ever tournament win at the M'Duck Cup in Leicester. Maybe the sunset was an omen. Probably not, as I have seen that image in the sky before. What I have not seen in a while was the thoroughly compelling away performance that the Hornets produced at Grimsby. Now that is what I hope to be a real omen for the future.