The Tivoli, RIP
By Matt Rowson
In the darkest, lowest points of the last few weeks when the temptation has been to regard relegation as a racing certainty rather than merely a real possibility, it has been only natural to cushion the blow by contemplating any silver linings that Division Three might offer. The chance to visit a few new grounds, for one. Avoiding the resumption of brainless conflict with our friends from J11 another. And, it occurs to me en route up the M1, the ability to extend the tradition of the annual visit to the Tivoli, the cavernous, dusty but welcoming bar set in the back of the Millers' Tivoli stand.
We arrive in South Yorkshire to find the Tivoli bar sign swinging with an even lazier, more detached air than normal. The bar has closed down, the door is barred. We feel cheated. We take up residence next door in the Miller, along with a large number of travelling Hornets who were also destined for the Tivoli if the irritated furrows on the locals' faces are anything to judge by. My brother, on his way down from Leeds, is informed of developments and threatens to turn around and head back home. He's only half-joking.
Attention is duly focused. Relegation is no longer something that might happen to us, but something we can, must do something about. We've been rather randomly shunted into a peculiar gazebo of a stand adjacent to the traditional visitors' stand to accommodate Rotherham's attempts at a price reduction-induced family day. It hasn't been successful - there are scarcely half as many Millers scattered around the comfortable away end as there are Hornets rammed into our little corner. In such a congested environment, it doesn't take long for an atmosphere to materialise, however. The soundtrack is helpful... the Clash and the Jam get feet tapping before Razorlight's "Somewhere Else" kicks off and Watford voices rise in defiance, drowning it out.
And as if any further encouragement to avoid the drop were needed, Rotherham United take the field before us now looking every inch a Third Division side. It's not just that they're awful - the comically appalling spread that Burnley put before us this time last season was worse - it's the dreadful mundaneness of it. Their defence is bad, but not in a calamitous centrebacksrunningintoeachother kinda way... just in the way that sees Shaun Barker recognise that he's got a job on against Heidar Helguson and attempt to compensate with tugs and pushes and too many free kicks given away. The attack isn't hopeless... but it's half-hearted and unconvincing. And the midfield... energy and not much else. And Paolo Vernazza.
The Hornets, meanwhile, aren't exactly Brazil 1970, or even Watford 1983, but they rise well above this dross for the first forty-five minutes. We're not dead yet, not on this evidence. Alec Chamberlain is in for the injured Richard Lee, the released Reece Kirk on the bench. Neil Cox returns to the starting line up in place of the suspended Demerit, Brucie's back up front for Bouazza and the "Dom Blizzard as tricky winger" experiment appears to have been shelved for the moment, with Dom on the bench and Ashley Young starting on the left.
The tone is set quickly, and scarcely wavers until half time. Rotherham scramble around for a bit, lose the ball and Watford rattle forward, Ashley Young engineering a break for the typically lively Eagles to shoot wide from distance. Paolo Vernazza's one wholehearted contribution to the afternoon involves an elbow to Bruce Dyer's head for which he's lucky to escape punishment; the subsequent free kick is dumped into the box by Cox for Cullip to flick on and Heidar to not quite get his foot round at the far post.
Rotherham lose possession in midfield again and Gavin Mahon plays one of the passes of the season, turning on the ball just inside our half and instantly dropping a long pass into the path of the charging Eagles wide on the right; he heads into the area but gets the ball stuck under his feet... we're not quite there, but at least we're somewhere, unlike our hosts.
Bruce Dyer rolls his marker, not for the first or last time, and spreads wide to Eagles who lays back to the ever-willing Doyley, but too short, allowing Rotherham to break again. But to break nowhere, the best the Millers have managed so far has been crosses into the Veteran's arms and one header that's cleared the bar. Heidar turns neatly and slides in a low shot; Pollitt fields it comfortably but we're getting closer.
Another attack, and Rotherham are really rattled for the first time... Eagles, inevitably, involved again, fooling the keeper and firing low at the near post when a cross was anticipated, Pollitt recovers well but can only scramble it around the post for a corner. A long corner comes in from the right, Cullip knocks it down, the Rotherham defence comes out and Heidar's standing there alone. Having been awarded some generous flags already the Millers' defence have got this one all wrong, Heidar's onside and finishes with gusto.
Chris Eagles has been catching the eye in our attacking play, but Ashley Young has appeared revived in the last few weeks and is digging in well on his weaker side. The pressure is maintained as Young fires in a wicked cross with his weaker left foot that Rotherham scramble clear, and then skips inside to shoot down Pollitt's throat.
Anthony McNamee has been warming up and we're looking around for evidence of limping. Gavin Mahon seems the likeliest candidate on that basis alone, although McNamee as a midfield scrapper takes some imagination. Instead it's Chris Eagles, who within minutes is prone on the ground. For obvious reasons, he wants to try to run it off, but this attempt lasts long enough to get booked for what is presumably retribution on Paul Hurst before he limps off, his second Watford career reaching a disappointing conclusion.
Rotherham show signs of life... Alec comes out to capture a dangerous cross, and then a second from the left finds Martin Butler free and Chamberlain saves well down low. Then, half-time.
After the break, we're greeted by the odd sight of Danny Cullip lining up at right back directly in front of us with Lloyd Doyley inside. All becomes clear when Rotherham dump a ball down the left flank from the centre towards a scampering runner who hasn't a hope of getting anywhere near Cullip in the air... the centre back nods the ball tidily back to Chamberlain and then trots back to his central berth.
The first ten minutes or so are a shapeless mess, but a recurring theme of the second half emerges... Bruce Dyer does a fantastic job for the team during this period, holding possession, rolling his marker and charging away from where Rotherham want things, making things happen or at the very least protecting the ball. Often, as here, this involves him bombing down the right hand side further up the flank to which we are adjacent at the other end of the pitch. With the ground being so tight, this inevitably provokes a ripple effect as Watford necks strain for a view, and then a complicated resumption of position which, given the ridiculously cramped nature of the stand, is a bit like a children's puzzle or a street map that doesn't close properly unless you've done everything in the right order. So I can't sit down until my brother's sat down next to me and the bloke in front has pushed down the empty seat next to him because at 6'2", there's no space here for my right leg unless I drape it over the seat in front. Seat in the most theoretical sense, there's no way these things are all going to be sat on simultaneously, even by primary school kids.
Meanwhile, Brucie's still charging up the right flank and squares firmly, the ball put behind for a corner which goes nowhere. A deep clearance from Alec is helped on its way by McNamee, the ball bounces high and H briefly threatens to reprise his astonishing goal against Portsmouth, leaping up to mount a competitive challenge to Pollitt whose fingertips just outreach the Icelander's head.
The attempts continue... none of them terribly well-crafted or clear-cut, but you wouldn't bet against a second goal; McNamee shimmies into space and shoots from distance, Helguson puts some serious welly into a crashing shot which flies across the face of goal from wide on the left, Gunnarsson slings in a low effort that bounces narrowly wide.
But as the game goes on, perhaps we get a bit nervy, perhaps it occurs to Rotherham that however awful they've been, they're still only a goal behind and the pattern changes. Martin Butler sounds a clarion call of sorts with an incongruously proficient turn and shot from the edge of the area, then Cullip worryingly succumbs to the old Wayne Brown trick of realising far too late that the ball's about to drop over his head, allowing the otherwise anonymous Tony Thorpe to sneak in behind him; Cox tidies up, before Bruce charges off with the ball again to waste a few more seconds.
Ashley Young's useful contribution fizzles out as he runs out of energy and starts putting passes into the stand... Dom has a go on the right flank as his replacement. The ref seems to be tiring too... we'd scarcely noticed him up to now, appropriately, but he seems to get more decisions wrong than right in the final fifteen minutes, first booking Cox for standing his ground as Butler executes a triple pike with more focus than much of Rotherham's play, then completely missing Cox's handball in the box that might have put a very different complexion on this match report. When Gunnarsson guillotines a fleeing Michael Keane with a tackle from behind in midfield, we're only mildly surprised by the ref appearing to wave play-on, before changing his mind and delivering the deserved yellow card.
There's still time to have another laugh at Tony Thorpe when some sloppy Watford defending allows a stray ball through, but he's oblivious as the ball rolls past him into Chamberlain's grateful arms. Meanwhile, we've been offered another reminder of why getting relegated really isn't a very attractive proposition as we're treated to that staple feature of visiting small-town clubs, the heavy-handed incursion by a sullen troupe of stewards and police to evict Watford miscreants. The Millers with whom they'd been trading observations wave them out.
The game ends, and a number of fists are waved at the away support from the players and management. We could have done without Brighton equalising at Burnley, but that aside the results have generally gone our way and the odds now have to be in favour of us not following Rotherham into Division Three. Which really is a good thing. What happens to us next season should we stay up, of course, remains to be seen.