Football League Division Two, 22/11/05, 7.45pm
By Gareth Robins
A last minute (well, six o'clock) decision to attend this game denied me my usual pre-match ritual of reading the programme and familarising myself with the opposition whilst leaning inconspicuously against wall near to refreshment kiosk in stadium drinking coffee. A furious dash from North Bucks up the M1 landed me at the Walkers Stadium too late to see this game kick-off. I entered my seat as disorientated as the proverbial rabbit in headlights just in time to see Paul Devlin up-ended by an unknown (no time to buy a programme) Leicester City defender and Marlon King thump home a splendid free-kick.
The travelling Hornets started the now predictable 'Easy-Easy-Easy' chant. Playing away to any team in the 'Championship', despite our impressive away form, is never easy and so it proved. For the next ten minutes, however, Watford played the ball around with an ease bordering at times on arrogance. Ashley Young looked destined to double the score when cleverly played in by Anthony McNamee but the linesman adjudged him to be offside. Leicester, meanwhile, looked like a team that hadn't scored in its previous four games (I think, no programme). Floundering at the back and lacking inspiration anywhere else on the pitch, the soporific home crowd stirred to mumble their discontent. I dared to dream of an incredible sixth successive wins. As I suspect, did the Watford players.
Gradually, and I'm searching unsuccessfully for some sort of metaphor that involves waking from an unpleasant dream here, Leicester began to stir. The hitherto anonymous Marc De Vries began to pressurise our back four and the prickly Elvis Hammond was causing one or two problems. Defensively, we looked a little square and were saved on more than one occasion by the linesman's flag. Eventually, parity was restored. I later learned that it was not Mo Sylla formerly of Celtic but Ryan Smith who turned Lloyd Doyley inside out before cleverly sliding the ball across our penalty area. We looked to have scrambled it clear but the ball fell to Heidar's mate, Joey Gudjonnson, who was presented with a simple chance to equalise. Now the Foxes were in the ascendant whilst the travelling Hornets were briefly quiet. Leicester continued to press and won a succession of corners. Matt Spring, defending the near post, looked to have dealt with one such corner with some deft midriff control; however, his arms were forming part of this midriff and the referee duly awarded a penalty. Despite protestations, Gudjonnsson doubled his and Leicester's tally, sending Ben Foster the wrong way.
Now we were hanging on a little and I don't think I was alone in wishing for the half-time whistle as it seemed that Leicester could increase their advantage any time soon. Indeed for one heart-stopping moment, it appeared that they had, but Clarke Carlisle was on hand to shovel the ball off of the line. Moments later, the centre half was booked for diving after Watford had won a free-kick deep in the opposition's half. An improbable decision, Carlisle did seem to go down under challenge a little too easily but this did not appear to be a blatant dive and I wonder whether referees were dishing out yellow cards for this type of offence five years ago.
Disaster struck moments after the re-start when this time Carlisle deservedly received a yellow card for hacking down a goal-bound Gudjonnson and as it was his second, departed with forty-three second half minutes left to play. Down to ten men and away from home, lesser sides might have buckled. That we didn't was down to a number of factors: Leicester's inability to put us under any pressure, the spirit and belief coursing through this Watford side, and some astute substitutuons by Aidy Boothroyd. Jay Demerit, a surprise omission, came on as did Al Bangura, replacing Anhony McNamee and Paul Devlin who did not enjoy one of his finer appearances in a Watford shirt. It took a while to adjust to these changes and the Leicester fans treated us to some 'olés' whilst their team played keep-ball but for all of their possession, City never threatened our goal. Watford meanwhile, whilst not looking like they would score, won a number of free-kicks in promising positions without troubling Rob Douglas in the Leicester goal. Despite enjoying the majority of possession, it looked as though an equaliser was beyond us. Then, Dion Dublin, on for the ineffective De Vreis, had a chance so simple it was the intellectual inferior of my boss: clean through, with the goal at his mercy, the former Villa striker contrived to not even hit the target. I had almost looked away, waiting for the roar of the home crowd to signal a third goal and almost certain victory. Dublin, meanwhile, buried his head in his hands and, one would imagine, will be suffering restless nights for weeks to come at the memory of this miss.
Hornets players and fans alike seemed to be galvanised by Dublin's miss, raising game and support respectively. With the time running out, the tireless Mahon received the ball from Bangura and swung in a cross from the right, Ashley Young appeared at the far post, stooped to head the ball back across goal and up popped Malky Mackay to sweep in a deserved equaliser. Cue pandemonium in the away end.
Despite four minutes of added time, Watford hung on for a seventh game unbeaten showing the type of resilience that will be needed if they are to hang onto the lofty heights of third position. Players and fans alike celebrated at the end of the game happy with a point but safe in the knowledge that pyschologically, this seemed as good as a win.