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02/03: Review:
"Filled with pride"
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 20/02/03

Watford's narrow victory at The Stadium Of Light ranks up alongside the club's famous F.A Cup exploits of yester-year. Even more so if you consider they were gained in a far more comfortable financial climate. I worked at the game for B.B.C Three Counties Radio and along with the estimated 3,000 traveling fans, the players filled me with pride. This was a magnificently gritty, determined display and, contrary to Howard Wilkinson's post match comments, the officials were correct throughout.

Tommy Smith led the team from the front, assisted by Heidar Helguson, and the strikers gave the Sunderland defenders a torrid time, in particular during the second half when Watford were dangerous on several occasions. Former Hornet Kevin Phillips failed to convert chances and the back four held firm when put under pressure. Most of the home team's efforts missed the target and Alec Chamberlain was only called into serious action in the dying moments.

Sunderland, as was hoped, lacked confidence and after a scrappy first period, Watford emerged convinced a win was possible. Tommy Smith converted a twice-taken penalty, putting The Hornets into the Quarter-Finals.

Monday's live televised draw was perfect. Watford will face either Burnley from Division One or Premiership outfit Fulham at home. The two sides will replay their 5th round tie at Turf Moor next week. Having already defeated two Premiership teams so far in the competition, The Cottagers should hold no fear for Ray Lewington's players and The Hornets have already beaten Burnley at Vicarage Road this season. A full house and live television coverage will be a most welcome financial boost for the club. The Semi-Finals are possible...and who knows, maybe, just maybe, the final itself.

We may dream, whereas the squad must now concentrate and re-focus on League matters. On the horizon, two tricky away games in the Midlands. Firstly, on Saturday, at lowly placed Walsall. Colin Lee's team are in 20th place and desperate to stay in the division. The Saddlers will be eager to pull away from the relegation zone and claim Watford's scalp. With Brighton showing improved form, the bottom of the League table is tightening up. It's all or nothing at The Bescot Stadium with a home record consisting of seven wins, eight defeats and a solitary draw.

It's then on to Molineux on Tuesday the 25th to face play-off contenders Wolves. David Jones' players are also in the F.A Cup Quarter-Finals and this will be a vital game for The Hornets if they are to continue with top six aspirations. The Wolves' home form has been indifferent so far, six wins, five draws and four defeats. Molineux is a fine stadium and Wolves chairman Sir Jack Hayward is now demanding Premiership status following his multi-million pound investment over the years. This shoulders a huge burden on the players and one which up to now, they have been unable to carry. Last season's run-in saw Wolves surrender a twelve point advantage and David Jones has added the experiance of Paul Ince and Dennis Irwin during the close-season to bolster the squad. The game at Vicarage road in early November saw Wolves equalise late in the game to snatch an undeserved point. Watford's form dipped following this set-back and the team went on to lose five of their next six games. The players will be eager to make amends.


In the charts:
Too Shy by Kajagoogoo (for the second week)

Football League Division One
Watford 2 Southampton 0
Sherwood, Rice, Bolton, Sims, Rostron, Callaghan, Taylor, Jackett, Barnes, Gillighan, Blissett.
Scorers; Luther Blissett and an own goal

Reproduced courtesy of Gazette Newspapers
Photographs by Malcolm Armstrong