By Bill Wilkinson
Apologies in advance if this report contains inaccuracies, you might get a more factual report from one of the regular contributors who was prepared and took a pen and paper with them. Because prepared is something I most certainly wasn't. At 5.15, the objectives of the day were complete, and avoiding the traffic rush, I hang around at work reading the build-up to the game on various websites, when it dawns on me that I really should be at this game. Fifteen minutes later, I am on a train to Leeds and the adrenaline is pumping.
Eight hours later and I am back home in Manchester. Cold and very wet after a walk home from the night bus route. And with a cup of tea in hand, I am inspired to write my first words for a Watford fanzine for a decade, mainly due to the words of my old football manager and mentor, Dave Messenger, following our win against Coventry at the weekend. Like Dave, I have been feeling detached from the club over the last year or so; actually, living at least a hundred and fifty miles away from Watford for the last seven years had detached me somewhat, but events of the last twelve months have exacerbated it further, and my occasional trips to games both home and away have not quite felt the same as they used to. Something is not quite there, something I can't quite put my finger on.
So here we are. Biggest game of the season. And an atmosphere for me (given our ridiculous proximity to home fans) similar to St Andrews in the playoff semi-final. The game is an edgy scrappy affair for the opening quarter, with neither team able to assert themselves, and Watford's novice centre midfield of Bangura and Chambers finding it difficult to assert itself, especially given that both picked up rather needless early bookings.
Leeds are the first to create chances, with Foster making a couple of notable, but expected saves, and Gregan clipping the top of the bar with a header from a Kelly free-kick. But as the half drew to an end it was Watford who began to look like scoring with Eagles and Young causing plenty of problems down the flanks and Marlon and Darius causing the aged United defence problems too. And it was King who created the goal, having been clumsily brought down by Gregan on the edge of the Leeds penalty area. Ashley Young stepped up to plant the free-kick into the top corner. Who said you need to be twenty-five yards out in order to get the ball "up and over"?
The second half began in a surreal fashion, which would become the norm, as first Leeds and then Watford had goals disallowed by the now obligatory very late flag. Then came the moment which changed the game.
Jordan Stewart's poor header back to Foster allowed Hulse to intercept, push the ball past the on-rushing Foster and land in a heap on the floor. From my appalling view, five rows back at the other end, I couldn't tell you if Foster made much contact with Hulse, but what I'm pretty sure of is that Hulse was never going to reach the ball for a second touch. Referee Mike Jones must have seen otherwise though and bowed to home pressure by sending Foster for an early bath. Chamberlain was quickly stripped off and ready for action at the expense of Eagles, but his first job was to pick Blake's spot kick out of his own net.
Away fans are still reeling, and Aidy is just sorting out his tactics, which I'm pretty sure would have involved replacing Henderson (now playing wide left) with Bouazza, when the decision is taken out of his hands. Henderson is fouled by Gregan, who has ripped the Hornet's hit-man's shirt whilst stopping him going clear. There is no whistle though and Henderson sees a red mist, elbowing Gregan in the face, before seeing red again.
The away fans a yard away from me think this is hilarious. I don't. But this is where I find that something. The response of the away fans and of the players is excellent, you always felt we could nick something, at first a winner, and then later an equaliser from a set piece.
We held out for twenty minutes or so, before Chamberlain was beaten for a second time, saving well from Healy, but the rebound fell nicely for Blake. In a way it may have been been better for Leeds to score earlier. Their arrogance against nine-men when 2-1 up did cause them to take their foot off the gas, and the half chances that fell to Watford were more frequent at 2-1 down than at 1-1.
The game ended though with a reaction from Aidy (fists pumping at the away support) and the fans of a team that had won the game; more than that, this was the reaction of a team who'd won an important victory. Maybe we had. I felt part of the club again for the first time in ages. We are together again. All is not lost, still thirty-six points to play for, but even if it doesn't happen this year, or even next, it does feel good to have my club back again.
A telling moment, though: back in Leeds city centre dissecting the match with a couple of friends over an ale or two, chatting to the locals, one says to me on his way out, "We'd rather you finished second than have to play you in the play-offs." He was deadly serious.
Bring it on!