Watford 2 Sheffield United 1 (Payne, Johnson)
Huddersfield Town 1 Watford 0
Watford 2 Barnsley 3 (Phillips 2)
Charlton Athletic 2 Watford 1 (Mooney)
I guess even the most cynical of Watford fans must have held out a little hope for this season. Having finished seventh in the previous campaign and with the expectation of squad-strengthening signings, we were all a little optimistic when we returned to the Vic after the summer.
A battling victory over Bassett's Bruisers on the first day of the season only helped to add to the sense of well-being. That game will be remembered for Payne's spectacular overhead kick (this from a player who had only managed one on-target attempt before) more than anything else - there was little football on show that day, mainly thanks to United's tactics.
The alarm bells started to ring almost immediately, however. Defeat against long-ball maniacs Huddersfield was disappointing, particularly since the goal came from a horrible defensive mix-up, but we were used to away defeats - after all, our away form had been pitiful the previous season and we'd only just missed out on the playoffs.
Barnsley came to the Vic with fire in their bellies and they turned us over in some style, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to take the points in the second half. To add to the already-worrying injury list, Kevin Miller was injured in the warm-up and Andy Hessenthaler was the victim of a brutal challenge that went unpunished by the referee and put him out of action for fourteen games. At this stage, the absence of Craig Ramage (and there were all sorts of rumours flying around about him - unfit, managerial bust-up, transfer deals) began to tell - we missed his quality and his vision (sadly, he came back and, for most of the season, we still missed those things).
Charlton is, perhaps, best forgotten. After all that's happened since, I'd still say that this was the worst performance I saw from the Hornets all season. It was shockingly clueless - lazy, looping high balls to our diminutive forwards all evening - and the only thing to celebrate was that somehow we managed to take the lead in the first half. It didn't last - miraculously, we only lost 2-1 but virtually every Watford fan agreed that the defeat should have been heavier. Glenn Roeder, never one to criticise players publicly, was demonstrably shocked by how badly they'd played.