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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 15/03/03, 3pm
Grimsby Town
A day of routine
By James Frankland

I have a particular routine that I follow when not attending away games. My fairly frequent absence from away games can be explained by my:

a) lack of transport
b) lack of finance

I'm sure my fellow Hornets would not begrudge my prioritising a trip to the FA Cup Semi-Final (I'm gonna mention this as much as I can) over a trip to Grimsby. Anyway, onto the routine. I'll wake up about 8.30, amble downstairs and make a cup of tea. Once back upstairs, I will settle back into bed and watch Soccer AM at 9.00. For anyone who hasn't seen this programme, it's pure genius and you absolutely have to watch it.

Once that is finished at 12am, depending on the match that is being shown, I will watch the live Sky game or Football Focus on BBC1. As today's game was Aston Villa v Manchester United, I thought I would get a quick peek at the ground which is going to be hosting our FA Cup Semi-Final against Southampton (there it is again). The ground looks excellent, and I could almost visualise the Holte End, rammed full of Hornets bedecked in yellow, roaring the boys onto the Final. The match finished 1-0 to Man U, Beckham scoring early in the first half.

After a shower I will take a walk to my local agent of news to buy a lottery ticket, and get back just in time for the start of the day's games, which I watch on Sky's Soccer Saturday program. Checking the team news on the internet, I find that our only change from the match which put us in the FA Cup Semi-Final (all right, I'll give it a rest for a while) is Jamie Hand in for Paolo Vernazza.

Last night I watched a film called "Vanilla Sky", which stars Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and the really rather lovely Cameron Diaz. I won't ruin it for those of you who haven't seen it, suffice to say that it is one of those films that has a major twist at the end. If you know this going in, and watch for the clues, you might think you will be able to figure it out beforehand, only to be completely blown away when the secret is revealed.

In many ways, that sounds a lot like Luca Vialli's policy on team selection and formation. Winning teams were changed, losing teams were not, and no sensible reasons for the changes were ever given. Contrast that with the straight-talking Ray Lewington. Just by looking at the line-up, you can tell who is playing where, what role they are being asked to do, and the formation that being employed.

So it was with a comforting reassurance I knew that Ardley, Cox, Gayle and Robinson would again be protecting Alec 'Lev Yashin' Chamberlain in goal, with Glassy on the left, Hyde and Mahon in midfield, and Jamie Hand getting stuck in from the right flank. Opposing left-backs must be praying for the return of Allan Nielsen to the right side.

Watching a game on a programme like Soccer Saturday is like being asked to complete a five hundred piece jigsaw which has 495 blank pieces. You can see small portions of what is happening, like the line-ups, chances at goal and actual goals themselves, but you do not ever see the full picture. You don't know if the boys are playing well and missing bags of chances, or getting dominated and nicking a cheeky goal on the counter-attack. I always hope for an early goal to come through on the vidi-printer, but today it seems it just won't come.

Having just read the half-time report from the official site, it seems that first-half goal wasn't far away. The writer of the report describes Grimsby as 'terrible', which I suppose is not unfair based on their league position. An early chance for Mahon and two decent efforts from Heidar could have put the result beyond doubt inside forty-five minutes, but the old problem of scoring away from home seems to have reared its familiar and unattractive face.

Even more so now, as Groves has stuck one in on sixty-four minutes. Another missed chance from Helguson after being put through by Cox a few minutes earlier, and a cross from Oster, on loan from another bottom of the league club, Sunderland, was backheeled in by the Town player-manager Paul Groves.

It's times like this that all your fears about your team rush forth and you fear for the worst. What might a defeat to Grimsby do to our confidence, not least our league position, after the stratospheric high of last Sunday? Are we going into these games believing we should beat these teams, and being unpleasantly surprised when it transpires that they haven't read the same script as us? I can imagine Robbo and Jamie Hand getting mightily pissed off with the situation, getting reckless with challenges and a sending off would all but destroy our chances of getting a result from this game. I couldn't begin to imagine the effect a thrashing by Grimsby might have on our players.

When you are praying for a goal for your team and time is running out, every single update becomes agonising as the screen cycles through. A goal is scored, but then it registers that your team haven't got it, instead it's a goal in some no-mark game in the Scottish Third Division or the FA Vase Quarter-Final Replay. Other teams are nicking wins in the last ten minutes, and you can imagine the joy that their fans are experiencing, tempered by your own disappointment at your team's apparent failings.

We're into the ninetieth minute. Come on Watford. A goal from anywhere. Please. I don't care who it is, how scrappy it is, if it's an own goal that deflects off a steward's arse. A free-kick belted into the top corner, a scrambled toe-poked goal, an undeserved deflection. Anything.

FT D1    Grimsby 1 Watford 0


A few weeks ago, before we played Sunderland in the FA Cup 5th Round, there was a saying on Wearside:

"We're out of the league, so let's concentrate on the cup."

It was easy to laugh at the time. It's not so easy now.