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95/96 review:
Put it this way, I wouldn't bother with the highlights video. The previous season's optimism took no more than a couple of weeks to disappear and it was pretty much downhill all the way from then on.

It seems like a very long time since we opened the campaign with a competent victory over Sheffield United. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Many will point the finger at the manager for what's happened - I've never believed that to be fair and I haven't changed my mind about it now. Success demands a little more patience and understanding from the fans. When Graham Taylor took over, one of his first comments was that we should be satisfied with finishing in the top half of the First Division - no-one batted an eyelid. Glenn Roeder achieved that target and has never been given the credit.

Errors were made, of that there is no doubt. The failure to secure a decent centre forward was crucial, for team confidence as much as anything else, and the list of excuses produced did nothing for Roeder's relations with the fans who simply wanted to see a solution to the problems. Even then, though, we should be bloody thankful that we didn't get saddled with Uwe Fuchs' wage bill...

But I've always felt that the striker issue was a smokescreen. The fact was that much of the time we weren't playing well enough anyway. Prior to Devon White, none of our temporary centre forwards (Beadle, Wilkinson, Dixon) scored. Beadle was crap, obviously, but the other two know where the goal is and we didn't provide them with decent service. With or without a tall striker, our approach play was consistently poor. Blame Roeder if you want (and, yes, he has to take his share) but don't forget some of the worst culprits. Quite how Craig Ramage came second in the player of the season poll is beyond me - people evidently have very short memories.

Injuries aside (I'll get there in a minute), the season was characterised by chronic poor form on the part of critical players. Some (Ramage, Porter) didn't look at all interested; some (Hessenthaler, Holdsworth, Foster, numerous others) had their seasons disrupted by injury; some (Miller) were just inexplicably out of form. You just can't afford to have that happening every week. So, while our midfield was creatively bankrupt, our defence lost its previously invulnerable look and started leaking stupid goals at inopportune moments. Again, the blame has to be shouldered by everyone - players are responsible for their own actions.

The injury situation proved to be most damaging, though. In the previous season, we'd seen what could be achieved with a relatively settled side - this time we saw the flipside. Apart from the continual chopping and changing due to a seemingly endless list of minor injuries, we lost many first team regulars for prolonged periods. In the end, a grand total of 34 players made appearances - that's a figure Barry Fry would be proud of. On occasions we struggled to find fourteen fit players (and people have the cheek to criticise Stuart Murdoch's efforts with the reserves - half the time we didn't even have any reserves).

It's an age-old excuse, of course. But show me a side that can survive an injury crisis like ours and I'll show you a bloody miracle. Losing senior professionals is bad enough - you also have to remember that players were plunged back into the first team too early (we had no choice but they often got injured again) and that they'd hardly even trained with each other let alone played as a team. It takes time to build understanding in a side - you can't just throw the fit players together and hope.

It's the way with these things that people like to have the comfort of a scapegoat. If you pretend that the problems are easily solved, you feel a lot more secure. It never works like that, though. Sacking Glenn Roeder might have made a lot of people feel better but I don't believe we'd have stayed up if it had happened earlier. The underlying problems at the club (particularly with the finances) are still there, the short-term troubles didn't go away when Taylor arrived (come April and we were playing the local derby with a junior in central defence).

Undeniably, there were some truly dire performances in the first seven months of the season. But there were under Taylor too - it's amazing how the players were blamed for the Portsmouth defeat and not for the undignified shambles at Charlton. Equally, many bemoaned our away performances as negative then applauded a dour goalless draw at Reading as "a step in the right direction". The sudden rush of goals towards the end of the season, culminating in a six-goal demolition of Grimsby, was hugely encouraging but it came too late, when the pressure was off. It does no-one any good to repaint history in black and white.

Obviously, I'd love to believe that relegation will mark the beginning of a rebirth for Watford Football Club. But I've been there before. There are no shortcuts and I'm deeply suspicious of the unbounded optimism that seems to be in vogue right now. The only way we'll get out of this is by a lot of bloody hard work. Graham Taylor will know that. That means us as well. If things don't go right straight away, we must all pull together and get behind the team - I'm sick of hearing muttered criticism instead of real support when we're losing.

It's been a nightmare season. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet and forgetting about it, we have to learn from it, use it to our advantage, emerge smarter and wiser. Right now, I don't see enough evidence that that's happening.

Ian Grant