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04/05: Review:
January 2005:
Alternative universe
By Mike Peter

Picture the scene, if you will:

January 2005, and Luca Vialli, having taken his Man Utd of Division One into the dizzy heights of Premiership mediocrity, is having a bit of a moan.

"Izza a disgrace!" the Italian drawls. "Eight games, my players have had to play! 8! We 'ave both cups and ze league to win, we cannot cope! Where iz our winter break? Why do teams like Crewe and Brighton exist? Izza a disgrace!"

A farcical scenario, obviously. But then again, it's exactly the sort of month you could see a manager like Vialli and his ilk in the Premiership complaining about. It's been, in many respects, a rather farcical month. A congested month too, eight fixtures in all, and half of them against Premier opposition. An important month, with three campaigns of huge importance. A wonderful, passionate, crazy month.

It's hard to speak about the Liverpool games without re-treading ground, and to analyse it really, seeing as it was a one-off fixture (apart from the fact there were two of 'em). Obviously it was disappointing not to get through, no sense in denying that. But we can draw an immense amount of pride from the game. We can be proud about being their equal at Anfield. We can be proud about the fact that Stephen Gerrard was the only difference between the teams. We can be proud about colossal Jay Demerit, marking Morientes out of the game. Brynjar Gunnarsson, playing like hero with an injury (yet again). We can be proud about Liverpool coming down to the Vic and playing bloody Burnley (for crying out loud!) to stop us! We can be proud about the balloons (and there were so many...)!

It was fantastic, wasn't it?

The semi-final could have easily overshadowed what was also an incredibly important month in the league campaign. Lest we forget, before January our league form was terrible, and we were in danger of continuing our slide down into a relegation battle. The last thing we needed was players' minds off the task.

But aside the somewhat inevitable defeat at the Withdean, this has been a positive month. Victories against on-form Millwall - the first home league win since Plymouth in August - and Crewe have allowed us to make that important progression towards establishing a good home record, vital when our league form is notoriously poor. Saying that, perhaps our most impressive result was a 2-2 draw at Wigan, the weekend prior to the second leg with a reserve side. Amongst this team were Chris Eagles, newly signed on loan from Man Utd in preparation for the run-in, who looks very exciting.

Whilst it would be naive to say this is the start of a great comeback I will state, as I have many times before, that this League is very tight. By maintaining, and indeed improving our position in the league, we leave ourselves in a position where it is at least possible to make that push. One team always breaks from the pack, who's to say we can't be that team?

It says a lot for the slightly farcical nature of the month when a winnable FA Cup tie against Fulham is the least of our priorities. The 1-1 draw in the original tie was probably a fair result, but in many respects the tie was over because of this result. With the semi-final obviously reaping more reward, it was somewhat inevitable that our players didn't wish to risk injury through effort or passion in the preceding game (aside from the Wigan "reserve" tie). Understandable, but the romantic inside me can't help feel a little sad about going out in the third round.

And now we enter the uninteresting news paragraph, hence renamed "The Hand-Fitzgerald Miscellany". Both are off again, although Fitzgerald makes the miscellany slightly more interesting this month by lamping someone on his Orient debut. He is yet to appear again.

In all seriousness though, Fitzgerald's career appears to be disappearing quickly. His failure to make any kind of impression during the Bouazza/Webber injury spell has resulted in this unsuccessful loan, the second one this season. It's a trait that was common with Dominic Foley in his latter days at Watford and we all know that happened to him.

As for Hand, his future seems less decided. Despite the emerging presence of Diagouraga, Watford still have a considerable lack of central midfielders. Not a huge problem when we can loan players in, but with FIFA's ridiculous transfer window ruling applying next season then it would seem that Watford cannot afford to let go of Hand. Still, his transition from someone who made twenty-two appearances for us last season to "loaned out youngster" is remarkable. Anyway, he is one of the many players brought in by Richard Gough at Livingston in an attempt to stop their inevitable slide into Division 1*.

A farcical month yes, but obviously one to appreciate. I doubt we'll have one like it for a while.

Oh, sorry, Gillingham and Wolves in February!

* Now there's a proper name for a Division!