Is that the League season over?
By Pete Fincham
This was another day that promised so much, and yet delivered a hellish mess of absolute garbage.
Meeting Geoff and Brenda on the train from Doncaster is normally a good indication that we are in some grim Northern outpost, and when Jack Shepherd's face popped up a few seats away, it was clear that this was the time warp I had feared for so many years. Cleethorpes itself does little to disguise that it is a 1950s resort in need of serious refurbishment! But a trip to Willy's Bar on the Cleethorpes sea front is the perfect backdrop to one of my favourite trips of the year.
With the lads joining Michelle and I in the bar shortly after 12, and having been engaged by the bemused locals on the subject of the recent suicide attempt opposite the bar - apparently someone tried to drink the North Sea - there was much frivolity at Burnley's expense, and celebration of Stephen Glass' goal with just "10 minutes to go". However, the fact that it had taken him nearly 2 years to deliver that goal proved an interesting conversation in the background.
Tony Buckoke made £25 for the Supporters Trust, extending Harry Rowson's "1000 rays of light" idea to the extreme when he took a bet to test out the North Sea without protection. Meanwhile Ocean and friends launched into their full repertoire, much to the amusement of the increasing number of locals who joined us in the bar. It was widely reported around the locality that once again, "Watford have taken Willy's"!
After the celebrations of last Sunday, and the 16,000 joyous Hornets, decked out in yellow, with balloons causing the game to be held up, here was reality. "We're mentally ill, we're only here 'cause we're mentally ill". And what a reality it was! I love this trip, if only for its total shunning of modern convention that football should in some way be glamorous. The players did all they could to uphold the "Grimsby feel", and proceeded to produce one of the most limp and lacklustre displays imaginable. It was terrible, and only the continued frivolity generated by our friends in front row and the continued attention they gained from North East Lincolnshire's finest crowd control officials, prevented the suicidal tendencies becoming reality throughout this tedious excuse for a competitive fixture.
I should point out that this match report was in no way planned, and was originally the job of another BSaD contributor, who on Monday morning had failed to come up with more than 1 paragraph and ceded responsibility to me! It really was that bad.
Mahon had an early shot on goal that Coyne collected at the second attempt, while Chamberlain saved well from Oster after 10 minutes. The match action was nearly complete after a quarter of an hour, as Helguson tried an audacious shot from 20 yards, but with Coyne struggling, the shot dipping just over. There were a couple more tame efforts on goal that really tested neither keeper, and as the sun went down behind the less than vociferous side stand, the half came to a muted end.
The half time discussion centred on whether there was any more point to the League season, as it was clear that since the Sunderland game back in mid February, the Watford players as a team do not appear to replicate their Cup form for fear of bookings or injuries. The same players are trying, but without an end product, which is down, I feel, to the amount of effort they are prepared to put in in and around the opponents' penalty area. Only Helguson shows anything like the commitment needed to actually win a ball in front of goal, while the support from the midfield is virtually non-existent.
And so the second half commenced, and 45 minutes later ended. Groves cheeky backheel won Grimsby the game having gained some space from Gayle to get on the end of a Oster cross, while Chamberlain saved well from Oster and later Darren Barnard to keep the score as a reflection of this horrific game. McDermott, the stalwart of the Grimsby defence, clearly handled in the box with ten minutes to go, but the official failed to see the hand to ball right in front of the away end, and awarded what was to be another wasted corner.
The facts are simple. Watford have scored only ten league goals away from home all season. We have scored 1 away league goal since December the 14th 2002, and while Cox has scored four of the team's ten away goals, only Helguson has also scored more than once, the second of his two goals being away at Stoke at the end of October! The midfield have weighed in with a whopping one goal - Hyde v ten man Coventry - while only four goals have come from the strikers in eighteen games! This might sound like a cold replication of the facts, but as a person who has sat and stood through every single minute of these eighteen games, I feel entitled to whinge slightly when yet another away match failed to replicate what we know the team are capable of.
While most of you will still be on cloud 9 after Burnley, looking forward to getting your FA Cup Semi-Final tickets and digging out your retro tops to re-kindle that Cup feeling, the reality of the season is that for the 500 of us who bother going to these games, we have been cheated of entertainment and passion. Is the league season now so finished that we are resigned to limply seeing out our remaining fixtures to a chorus of silence, and muted disaffection?
This has been a better season than we could have hoped for at the outset to the campaign, but frankly the away form has been a terrible disappointment. While the significant majority of those who witnessed the FA Cup Quarter Final win will be watching Teletext or out shopping on April 5th, the same few who suffered this rubbish at Grimsby will be praying for an unusually hospitable welcome from our friends in Burnley! As if that is going to happen.