First of all, let's not forget that at the start of the season we were the bookmakers' favourites for relegation. Yet, after a shaky start, we spent most of the season hoping for a playoff place rather than struggling in the bottom four. That represents considerable progress.
Last season was spectacular, from the horrific low of the Grimsby defeat to that wonderful night in Peterborough - there's been nothing to compare to either of those games. What we had this season was less thrilling but, in the long term, may prove crucial to the future of the club. As football undergoes a period of radical change, the lower divisions will become more financially unstable and we may well see a dramatic reduction in the number of professional clubs in this country. Simply, we can't afford to get relegated. Any club that, like Watford, can't rely on large attendances for money must be successful on the field to secure advertising revenue. This season we've taken significant steps towards safeguarding the future of Watford Football Club. It is that important.
The low points of a season are perhaps most significant. Twelve months ago I would have been writing about that night against Grimsby. The worst I can come up with this time is Scarborough - the cold, the tedium, the sheer bloody expense of that FA cup tie. But we didn't even lose and in the circumstances (having no strikers available, for a start) a draw was a decent enough result. Even a home defeat at the hands of Luton was caused as much as by having only one fit central defender as anything else. I felt a bit numb for a few days and then the Spurs game, one of the finest matches I've ever seen at the Vic, came along and I forgot all about it. Almost.
Never ones to do things the easy way, it wasn't until our fifth game that we got a League goal. By that time we were bottom of the table and the need for a target man up front was already becoming apparent. It might have been a different season for Moralee and Mooney had chances against Grimsby and Southend hit the net instead of the woodwork - instead, Moralee kept going admirably but lost all his confidence and Mooney was moved back into midfield as Nogan hit a surprise run of goals.
Amazingly, we've survived the season without the target man that we needed from the start. To a certain extent, we've been lucky in that goals have come from unlikely sources, such as Johnson, Foster or Holdsworth, at vital times. Hessenthaler and Ramage have also chipped in. But most of all we've relied on the goalscoring feats of support strikers as Nogan, Bazeley and, most spectacularly, Phillips have found the net regularly. There may be considerable animosity between Nogan and Watford now (not least after his cynical dive when playing for Reading to get Nigel Gibbs sent off) but there's no doubt that his goals in October and November kept the campaign on the rails.
If goals have proved hard to come by, it's unthinkable how difficult it would have been without the promptings of the midfield maverick Craig Ramage. Aside from being our top scorer with some valuable goals, his creative input has frequently made the difference, turning games with moments of pure inspiration. On his day he's simply the best attacking midfielder in the division, swaggering about with all the confidence in the world, swaying around the tackles of bemused opposition players and spraying the ball all over the pitch. At times his casual arrogance has cost us goals too as he's lost the ball cheaply and put the defence under pressure, but that's forgivable - we wouldn't be half the team we are without him.
As the season's progressed the side has taken on an increasingly settled look. When he first inherited Perryman's squad, Glenn Roeder said that we should judge hime when he'd built his own team to play the style of football he wanted. He's done that and the achievements of this season are down to the manager more than anyone else. Roeder's an understated, uncharismatic bloke but he's made his mark. Much has been made of his failure to acquire a striker but his transfer dealings elswhere have been absolutely astonishing and we've reaped the rewards this season. Quality players have been prised away from their clubs for insulting amounts of money - think of Ramage, Millen, Foster, Miller and Phillips, then think about how much they cost. This summer's transer activity will be vital to our success next season but there's no reason to suggest that our man can't pull off such coups again.
Roeder's influence has been felt all around the club but nowhere more than the defence. The shambles of last season (check out Charlton's second goal at the Vic if you're after some comedy) has been replaced by assurance and confidence. Colin Foster made an immediate impact in the fight against relegation last season and he's continued where he left off - winning everything in the air and using those long legs to get in vital tackles. Keith Millen has come into his own, so efficient in this work that he's virtually unnoticeable most of the time. Crucially, David Holdsworth has regained his form after a nightmare season and is at the top of his game - strong in the air and extremely quick. We'll do well to keep him when his contract runs out this summer. Add to that the highly promising Robert Page and you've got a very solid centre of defence.
Opponents have had a hard time finding a way past that defence and when they've created chances they've come up against the best shot-stopper in the division. Kevin Miller, another Roeder steal, has had a staggering season with a catalogue of astounding saves taht have kept us in many games. In setting a club record for consecutive clean sheets he pulled off some amazing saves, most brilliantly in the last minutes against Bolton, and there's no doubt that the player of the season award is deservedly his.
In the end, poor away form cost us a playoff place. At home we've looked capable of getting three points even when we're not playing at our fluent best. That's not been true away from Vicarage Road and away victories have been too few. There have also been a handful of heavy defeats to blot our copybook at Sheffield United, Bolton, Charlton and Reading. Still, Tranmere have made the playoffs with exactly the same pattern of results, so it's not the greatest disaster.
Ultimately, we've finished just six points below the playoffs - a few less penalty misses might have made all the difference. With a few additions to the squad during the summer I have no doubt that 95/96 can be even better. Crucially, this has been a season of considerable growth and progress. At last we're serious contenders rather than also-rans. Credit to the players, the chairman and the fans for that, but, most of all, credit to Glenn Roeder. Geezer.