By Ian Grant
I've never been greatly convinced by the idea that dreams can be logically interpreted. I mean, regular
readers of BSaD will be well aware that my brain is quite capable of spewing out vast quantities of utter
nonsense when I'm fully conscious, so I'd hardly want to be defined and judged by what it might come up
with when left to its own devices....
My dreams tend to have a pleasant absurdity about them - completely ludicrous, rarely memorable and yet
entertaining enough...like a horrendously mis-cast and unsuccessful Hollywood comedy. (See - or, perhaps, don't
see - "Gone Fishing", a truly shambolic comedy starring Joe Pesci that was on BBC One earlier today.)
In particular, there's plenty of fun to be had in the seemingly random appearance of people from various parts
of my life in whatever new, unaccustomed roles my imagination has assigned to them. You know the kind of thing -
your dream takes you to work and you arrive to find that Clint Easton's making everyone a cup of tea while
wearing a beekeeper's suit, or something. I'm reminded of Eddie Izzard's comment that should you have a dream that involves
sitting on the sofa watching "Bargain Hunt" or something equally mundane, it should probably be interpreted to
mean that Clint Easton is making a cup of tea for everyone at work while wearing a beekeeper's suit.
Anyway, the point is that it's more than slightly disconcerting when these glitches in the space/time continuum
start cropping up during waking hours. I mean, I don't really expect to walk out of my front door in
Brighton, shirted and booted for the match, to see Liam (aka "Ocean", of the relentlessly bouncy cheering,
singing and opposition-baiting from the front of the Rookery) walking down the other side of the street.
Something of a double-take, to say the least. I'll be slightly wary when I walk through the front door at
work tomorrow morning. Milk, no sugar, Clint....
Logically, I should be equally convinced that my brain had conjured up the absurd idea that my neighbours were
keeping me awake by playing - and, yes, re-playing - a Rick Astley album at truly thunderous volume
into the early hours of this morning. It happened, though...or else why would I feel so damn tired? You
remember "Never Gonna Give You Up", of course...but you'd forgotten about "Whenever You Need Somebody" and
"She Wants To Dance With Me", hadn't you? Well, I bloody haven't. Feel my pain.
If there was a metaphor here, it got fed up of waiting and went for a curry about half an hour ago. It sends
its apologies, though.
We'll start with Richard Johnson, shall we? Perhaps training might start with that too, actually...since the
rest of the players clearly haven't quite got used to playing with a midfielder who's always in the
centre circle, always ready to receive the ball, always looking for a killer pass. This was
vintage Johnno, in slow-mo. All of the vision, the eagerness, the influence...and about fifty percent of
the fitness. Nevertheless, his appearance was hugely encouraging - he remains the same player as before,
there is nothing that can't be worked upon. With so many absences, his inclusion was quite obviously an
emergency measure...but it seems that we can look forward to seeing a fully-fit Johnno drop anchor on
the centre spot in the not-too-distant future.
There's plenty more to look forward to, of course. This unconvincing victory takes us to fourth, an almost
impossibly lofty position considering our expectations at the start of the season. While I'd still regard
it as inevitable that we'll have a bad run sooner or later, it's just so damn good to have achieved so much
already. It buys us time, brings us together...and it makes us enjoy life a little more. Here, we scratched
out a result somehow or other, never managing to dominate Grimsby as we dominated Brighton in the last fifteen
minutes last Saturday. It didn't matter much. As Luca found out, you just have to win these games.
Considering that call-ups and suspensions had removed three key parts of a near-complete equation - no Heidar
Helguson, such a phenomenal force since his return from injury; no Micah Hyde, "man of the match" in the three
previous fixtures; no Paul Robinson, the emotional core of the side - and that injuries forced further
changes, it ought to be considered an excellent result. This was a test, make no mistake. If we didn't
exactly pass it with flying colours, we still passed it. Again, this most pragmatic of Watford managers
simply got us through.
As against Brighton, it probably should've been more comfortable. While hardly impressing in the early
stages, and perhaps needing the assistance of an early Grimsby substitution, we created chances. Dominic
Foley was perhaps a little unfortunate to see his far post header from a Neal Ardley cross loop over the
bar as he'd climbed well to meet the ball, but Neil Cox really should've netted when allowed a free header
at a corner. He smacked it over instead, and we had to wait a little longer.
Not too much longer, though. Thirteen minutes, and a corner from the left caused all manner of stuff inside
the six yard box, to general ooh-ing and aah-ing from the Rookery. Eventually, the ball emerged, trickling out
behind Danny Webber and towards Dominic Foley. Stretching, he slammed it back whence it had come from a
tight angle...and was delighted to see that it had ripped between the keeper's legs and into the bottom
corner. Much as it's possible to find fault with Foley's game, his detractors seem unwilling to see anything
else. That was a fine, instinctive finish. No "Ah, yes, but...what about when he...?" about it.
Sadly, that was our cue to slacken somewhat. The following quarter of an hour was very far from great, as
Grimsby showed some spirit in coming back strongly and were denied an equaliser more by luck than judgement.
The lively-but-random Kabba started it off, turning Sean Dyche on the edge of the box and excitably dragging
a shot comfortably wide. From a corner, Santos' header went straight up into the air and, while Dyche was
still trying to work out where the ball had gone, he volleyed it goalwards, missing the post by a (fairly
thick) whisker. Kabba had a drive deflected over after a run against Dyche, then Coldicott swiped a ball
on the bounce from twenty-two yards and was unlucky to see it arc narrowly wide of the goal. He was unlucky,
we were chancing it a bit too much.
Still, you feel that we're not as fragile as before, that a goal against won't necessarily decide the
result. We're just a bit stronger now, a bit more confident about what we're doing. When it stops going
to plan, we're capable of putting it right without needing fifteen minutes in the dressing room. There are
leaders on the pitch - Neil Cox and Sean Dyche discussing and pointing, Richard Johnson and Jamie Hand having
their say too, others chipping in. As a Grimsby player received treatment at one point in the second half, you
almost expected someone to hand the agenda for the team meeting around. More than anything, what Ray Lewington
seems to have achieved is to allow the players to be themselves without becoming a team of individuals.
Anyway, it got a bit better. We might've benefitted from another goalkeeping blunder as Coyne allowed
Stephen Glass' low, driven free kick to escape him and was grateful both to a colleague for clearing and
to the Icelandic manager for selecting Heidar Helguson. A minute later, some fine passing concluded with
Lloyd Doyley, so full of youthful endeavour again, getting to the by-line and belting in a terrific cross
for Dominic Foley to head wide at the near post. Again, we'd asserted ourselves...although Kabba did manage
to out-pace a flagging Richard Johnson and drive just over from the edge of the box.
Not an impressive half, then. But the energy levels, the spirit and commitment - and, of course, the
ability to nick a scrappy goal at an opportune moment - mean that an unimpressive performance doesn't have to disintegrate
into a desperate performance. We're achieving so much simply by having the right attitude to the game. Really,
there's no mystery about it. No secret formula.
As a spectacle, the second half had even less to offer...and yet it offered an improvement, in that we were
more secure defensively and found ways of hitting Grimsby on the break. In fact, the visitors could claim
to have been the better side for much of the match...but they were the better side where it didn't
matter. In contrast, we struggled to find our natural rhythm throughout, yet just about did enough in both
penalty areas to claim the points. As we know from bitter experience, that's life in the relegation zone.
It probably should've been more comfortable, as I say. Three minutes in, Stephen Glass, filling in superbly
on the left of defence, won a tackle in his own half and ran to within sight of the opposition goal. His timing
was perfect, sliding a pass across to release Danny Webber...but the forward seems to have lost his nerve
in front of goal at the moment, and he delayed long enough to allow Barnard to dive in and block the eventual
shot. Despite Webber's inexplicable loss of form, characterised by the reluctance to shoot early and the tendency
to dwell on the ball that we saw during his loan spell at the end of last season, he remains a threat...and with a
spread of goals throughout the side, it's not such a significant problem.
The game became increasingly scrappy, neither side able to dictate a pattern. Paolo Vernazza replaced an exhausted
Richard Johnson - one half-fit midfielder for another - and it was his cross that set up another chance for
Danny Webber, who might've back-heeled the ball into the net from five yards but was instead smothered by Coyne
as he tried to turn. At the other end, Santos met a corner with a firm header and Alec Chamberlain somehow
managed to push the ball away with one hand, despite having Kabba standing right in front of him. Any kind of touch from the
Grimsby forward would surely have resulted in the equaliser. There was no touch, though...and, despite
mounting considerable pressure towards the end of the game, the visitors couldn't produce another clear-cut
As last week, the second goal just wouldn't come. Danny Webber broke forward, taking two defenders with him
and waiting for Jamie Hand to arrive on his right. The supply was ideal, the finish lacked composure, drilled
into the advertising hoardings by Coyne's near post. Tommy Smith, looking more lively than for some time after
replacing Dominic Foley, pounced on a poor defensive header and attempted to chip Coyne from the right of the
area, watching as the ball drifted onto the roof of the net. Even now, Grimsby had more of the ball...but
Coyne was needing to be alert as the pace of the Watford strikers began to unlock the visitors' defence.
The Jamie Hand Booking: Textbook. Absolutely textbook. Page Seven - "The Tackle From Behind", to be
precise. It'd been a fair while, and Matt and I had begun to wonder if it might happen at all...and then, yes!,
Jamie Hand came clattering through the back of Pouton in midfield, and I was noting down "Bookings: JH" before
the referee had even reached for his yellow card. That's vintage hacking, my friends. Treasure it.
Injury time, and more than a few nerves. We weren't hanging on, exactly. We weren't getting out of our half
too much either, mind. Pouton thumped a low drive narrowly wide via a slight deflection, and there were simply
too many corners, too many free kicks, too many moments when something might've gone wrong for it to be a
comfortable experience. That's an observation rather than a criticism. Again, we simply stuck at it rather
than allowing it to become a problem....
...And finally, Jamie Hand received possession and measured a punt into the space between the Grimsby centre
backs. Sprinting towards the ball from the left, Tommy Smith managed to get in front of Ward to send himself
clear...and he finished superbly, picking his spot before Coyne managed to get too close or Ward managed to
intervene. The ball nestled gently in the bottom of the net, Grimsby players collapsed, Jamie Hand was mobbed
by anyone who couldn't be bothered to catch up with the goalscorer. Game over.
So, this is a team that's claiming nothing for itself, except pride. No arrogance, no predictions, no "Manchester
United of the division". There appears to be no masterplan - "each game as it comes" is a tedious cliché,
but it seems particularly true at the moment - and there should be no calls for a re-think if and when we
slide down the table a little bit. It won't be a disaster.
So much has been achieved, though. Wherever it takes us, this is now, once again, the Watford that most of us
have grown up with. A bit tatty in places, not terribly glamourous, and definitely a long way from being
"by far the greatest team the world has ever seen". But it's got guts, it's got character, it's fiercely
human. It's easy to fall in love with.
It's our Watford.