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03/04: Review:
"The best 45 minutes I have seen in three seasons"
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 22/04/04

WATFORD’s run of vastly improved form continued with a worthy, hard fought point against Rotherham United and then to everyone’s surprise a convincing win at the New Den against FA Cup finalists and play-off hopefuls Millwall.

On Saturday, Watford went behind after four minutes and other scores involving the relegation candidates were going against the Hornets but striker Bruce Dyer popped up at the far post to head home an inch perfect cross from winger Paul Devlin to level matters. Dyer went on to have what looked a good goal disallowed for offside later in the first half as the Hornets took control of the game. With the Millers also desperate for points a good second half was on the cards, however the game deteriorated into a scrappy affair but Ray Lewington’s team had more than matched the home side in all departments.

It was the same starting line up for the trip to east London to face Dennis Wise and Co and a win for the Lions would have seen Millwall back in the top six. The home side dominated the first half and Watford were all at sea as Danny Dichio stooped to head his team in front from close range. That was how it remained until the interval with player/manager Wise orchestrating affairs from his deep-lying midfield berth. It was a fairly one-sided game with the Hornets failing to trouble the Millwall keeper at all.

The second half was equally as one-sided but this time it was the Hornets who totally dominated the game and they produced possibly the best 45 minutes of football I have seen in three seasons. To a man the players were sharp, confident and positive and opened up the home defence on numerous occasions. It was Dyer who once again equalised, this time from inside the six yard area following fine work by Lee Cook and Paul Devlin. Cook appeared to have dwelled too long on the ball before clipping a perfect cross to the back post for Devlin to head across for Dyer who tapped home with maybe a suspicion of an own goal by former Watford centre-half Daren Ward. Naturally as a striker Bruce is claiming the goal and it was no more than his second half performance deserved.

Watford continued to pile on the pressure with some inventive attacking play and as the ball broke wide to Lee Cook the youngster attacked his marker before looking up and firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner from 25 yards. Watford threatened on several occasions and the home side were unable to mount any real attacks of significance, although Devlin and Cook were forced to make a couple of timely interceptions to half progress.

The 700 plus travelling supporters sang their hearts out as the home fans left early with play-off hopes put on ice for the time being. For the Hornets, First Division status for next term seems assured, although not mathematically certain, much to the relief of all concerned and what a boost for next season it would be if they were to record a league double over Division One champions elect Norwich this Saturday at Vicarage Road (KO 3pm).

The Canaries have the best defensive record in the league and one of the most dangerous strikers in the shape of Darern Huckerby. If allowed Huckerby can dominate games with his pace and dribbling skills and Nigel Worthington’s men will no doubt have not forgotten that it was Watford who broke their impressive home record back in November with that 2-1 win. Having skipped several points clear City will be eager to wrap up promotion, but in this present vein of form it would be no surprise if Watford were to come out on top.

Reproduced courtesy of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette