By David Nelson
I don't know what it's been like in Hertfordshire the past week but up in North Yorkshire it has been truly miserable. Monday started cool and grey and by Friday things had progressed to biting cold and very grey, with wet bits on and off. It snowed between Friday night and Saturday morning not that far north of us. Mid-April? More like start of February. So when, coming down past the power station at Ferrybridge on the A1, there was a sudden parting of the grey to reveal a small patch of blue sky and a warm-ish sun, it was just what we needed to lift the spirits.
Rotherham was in a grey-all-over mood. The march round the scrapyard seems so apt. Inside the ground, the pitch had clearly seen better days; the bumps all over it were to catch out many of the Golden Boys in the early stages. The "main stand" is apparently to be demolished and replaced over the summer, but frankly I think the locals just wish the season had finished already. It was strikingly quiet and empty until really just the final few minutes before kick-off, a sharp comparison to the Community Stand full of noisy and decently hopeful Hornets fans. It was a good away following, and much better to be in that tight-knit group than spread all over the shallow-banking of the Railway End behind the goal.
The news of Richard Lee's injury had filtered through to the north, but not getting the Watford Observer, I didn't know who we had as sub goalie. Sorry, but neither did those sitting near me either. Game started and apart from shock at how we had to fit into the very tight seating, everything else looked dandy. Watford started very positively and Rotherham looked weak. A series of free-kicks was given our way as their back-four and midfield failed repeatedly to cope with the running of Chris Eagles and Ashley Young. Gunnarson and Eagles struggled with their control on the pitch at times, causing a bit of frustration in the crowd, but most of the game was played in Rotherham's half and we were oh-so-glad about that. The goal came at a good time, early enough to prevent fans from worrying that it was never going to come, and yet not so early that it gave us any feelings of over confidence. Heidar seemed to have ages to put the ball away, and even if he had taken ages longer, I think Rotherham still wouldn't have got a challenge in. They seemed to accept it was time we went in front. Cue particularly buoyant celebrations on the pitch from everyone.
Half-time, no problem apart from the commencement of a period of interesting refereeing. Chris Eagles, having been injured and come back on just to fill in time before sub McNamee was ready, got himself booked. McNamee, a few minutes into the second half, ditto (his shocking offence was not immediately retreating ten yards). Helguson obviously wasn't watching for his offence (much later on) was identical. Neil Cox (so much better today) was booked because he dared to be within a couple of yards when Butler fell over, a sort of revenge gained by the increasingly frustrated Rotherham striker. At least Brynjar's yellow was for a proper foul, late, unnecessary and obvious.
The vibrancy of the first-half performance dissipated as time wore on; indeed, the whole game degenerated. Rotherham looked capable of little (Mick Harford's comments afterwards on Radio Sheffield were particularly scathing about his side's performance...shame). The loss of Chris Eagles led to Ashley Young playing out the second forty-five minutes on the right where he was much less effective, and whilst Macker managed some tricks and nice runs, some heavy challenges from the home defence ended most serious prospects. In that respect, Bruce Dyer had an admirable half, using all his body strength to hold the ball up and keep things at the "right" end as far as we were concerned. We had some chances, but could have done with more shots on goal.
Only in the last five minutes did we really feel under threat, and the pressure wasn't very subtle. The feeling that chances missed might come to haunt us was present, but it didn't last long and the final whistle went to huge acclaim from players, management and fans alike. No doubt, smiles in the directors' box too.
The result was what was important. The performance was generally sound; quality not that fantastic, but enough against these particular opponents (though one needs to beware that Brighton are at Millmoor in a fortnight's time). My hands were blue with cold as I walked back round the scrapyard after the game but as I drove back into our village, the sunshine was out and we were set for a pleasant evening. There hasn't been much warmth round Vicarage Road of late either, but with one of our required two wins under our belts at last, perhaps spring there too might be just around the corner. The sun's out for the next seven days, at least.