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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 15/11/03, 3.00pm
Norwich City
By Ash Peters

Felt fortunate enough even to be there, really. Hadn't had too much luck getting tickets for sold out away games in the past, so just to be in the ground was fine by me. We never win at Norwich, and to go there missing a couple of quality players, with them on such a run, this was surely count your blessings time.

Luckily, that was all proved to be nonsense; I could never feel lucky to be sitting in an away allocation like that, anyway. Temporary, sure, but the atmosphere - and knee-crushing two rows we were granted - must be among the worst offerings for a travelling support in the league. No matter, though: plenty enough blessing to spend ninety minutes counting.

City looked a good side, neat and effective, even with Iwan in his usual uncompromising role - it was soon clear we had the right tactics, though. They had the better of the game early on but soon found Lenny Pidgeley to be on his most effective shot-stopping form, keeping out a very close range header even before most of us had folded ourselves into our seats. The game progressed with a fair bit of quality between the usual Division One head tennis outbreaks. Vernazza was intelligent in midfield, Cook always a willing runner; for the home side McVeigh and, yes, Easton had real talent but a really resolute performance from the back four was keeping the clear-cut opportunities for Norwich to a minimum.

I'd love to say exactly what tactical masterstroke Lewington pulled to make us feel so confident in a game from which a point would have been a more than acceptable return; to be honest, though, I'm not really sure what our formation was. Three in midfield? Four? Five? The view from pitch-side was not the best from which to judge, but at any rate in the first half our balls forward weren't aimless, or too quick to return, and it was no surprise when we took the lead. Fitzgerald, apparently a generous 8/1 to open the scoring, bundled in a cross for the easiest finish yet of his impressive run.

I'd been prepared to give the Norwich fans the benefit of the doubt up to now. Surely it was pure irony to mock an away following for being quiet when they were strung alongside the pitch like a school photo. Virtually from the kickoff, however, Huckerby entered our area, pushed the ball wide, and simply flung himself at a trailing leg. Suddenly losing at home for the first time was easily explained - it was the referee's fault. Not only did Steve Bennett turn down that appeal, but gave the on-loan striker a yellow card. 'You've only got twelve men,' they sung, to which the only natural reply was 'We've only got two rows!'

The home fans worked themselves into a state of indignant fury over two even more comical penalty appeals, the last of which was frankly beyond a joke, but their team were worthy of less childish encouragement. By the Portakabins at half time we would still have happily taken a point.

The third quarter of the game was almost entirely Norwich's. They came at us again and again, Ian Henderson standing out and Huckerby's evident skill only making his fondness for gamesmanship all the more disappointing. However, this Watford side gives nothing up. It was simply magnificent to watch the incessant attacks being repelled, everyone battling and working for each other. Stephen Kelly, in his last game in this loan spell, looked well worthy of a place in the Spurs side; he would have embarrassed the rest in some of their recent performances, let's hope Pleat hasn't been paying too much attention. Whilst the defence was awesome, when called upon Pidgeley was inspired and one tip around the post from a long Huckerby drive has my vote for non-goal of the season already.

It didn't look like we'd need another one but the ever-eager Fitzgerald wasn't about to turn down the chance. Chasing down a neat if slightly over-hit through-ball in the manner all players should, he drew a clumsy challenge from Robert Green, presumably feeling quite nippy in the Norwich goal since the break. As clear a penalty as you could wish to see, I was almost pleased to see that our twelfth man applied the letter of the old law and allowed the keeper to stay on the field despite denying a clear goal-scoring chance. Neil Cox slid home the penalty and the home fans began booing Fitzgerald too. Sigh....

A clean sheet proved too much to wish for, substitute Jarvis bundling home a Huckerby cross with seconds on the clock, but it was not even a blemish on a day of immense satisfaction for the travelling support. At times this Watford side plays as well as I have ever seen my team play, and with all the passion and commitment you love to see. We've been truly terrible for large spells of the last two seasons yet survived comfortably. It might just be that the flirtation with the relegation zone is enough to spur us on to some real direction and hope for the future. Each year, pundits queue up to say that the First Division is especially strong this time; now I think it actually is, and I feel we can beat anyone.