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95/96: Reports:

Endsleigh League Division 1, 16/3/96
Derby County 1(0)
Watford 1(1)
Team: Miller 4, Bazeley 2, Millen 3, Hessenthaler 2, *Page 4*, Foster 4, Mooney 3, Palmer 4, Ramage 1, Porter 1, Moralee 3
Subs: D White (for Moralee) 1, Ludden, Dixon
Scorers: Foster
Referee steals two valuable points
Report by Kate Holmes

This is one of those games, on which an entire season's success could rest. Derby - top of the table - playing us at the bottom. I actually went to the game expecting, not hoping, to win. I didn't think much of Derby in the game at Vicarage Road and we have got more belief in our ability to score goals. After letting in four goals at West Brom, I knew we wouldn't do it again.

We were only faced with one fresh injury, putting the list back into double figures, with David Barnes replaced by Keith Millen. Derby had their own selection worries, being without three regulars. If only we could have that many injury doubts!

We were given a small area of seating, the lower tier uncovered and the middle tier of a stand that should be condemned - wooden, damp and decaying. I was right at the back of the middle tier, so any high hoofs were lost by the 'roof'. Even though I am one of the few people over the age of seven smaller than Derek Payne, I could touch the roof.

The game was pretty much as I expected - Derby trying to get an early goal, and failing dismally. The only worry we had was from the referee. I knew we were in for a tough time when I discovered it was the same ref who sent off Brucie Dyer at home to Barnsley. He was so biased to the home side it was embarrassing. I know I am totally biased to my boys, but even a neutral would have conceded this as a 'homer'. Why do we never get 'homers' at Vicarage Road?

Steve Palmer got booked for a fifty-fifty challenge with their keeper, and whilst the keeper received treatment for his 'injury', the ref was in deep conversation with a couple of Derby players. I remarked at the time that he was probably telling them to take a dive in the area and he'd give them a penalty.

Midway through the first half we got a couple of corners. From the second, Porter found the head of Colin Foster, who scored his third goal in two games. Fos when wild - for him, anyway - and so did we, all us Hornets chanting proudly that 'we are bottom of the league' and 'how the hell are you lot top?'. I don't think that Derby, or the ref, were too impressed. Derby just did not look like scoring, as our defence were so determined. Kevin Miller excelled in goal, and Robert Page looked so solid. We all felt that the only way they would get back in would be through a flukey goal or a dodgy penalty.

We made it to half-time still leading, knowing we just had to ride out our dodgy start to the second half and we would be okay. Most of the second half saw us defending, and the ref's decisions getting stranger. Moralee was booked in the first half for kicking the ball away, then Mooney picked up a booking for taking too long over a throw-in. If their ballboys had done their job properly, Tommy would have been able to take the throw quicker. Meanwhile, Moralee was stretchered off - not a foul, of course - and replaced by Devon White.

We moved into the last ten minutes having seen the best defensive display since Sunderland away. But, one of the biggest problems of being down at the bottom and playing the league leaders, is the actions of the referee. In the 84th minute, Page did brilliantly to tackle a Derby player in the area, the ball was clearly won by Page. The Derby player fell over Page's leg and the ref gave a penalty. He had been itching to do this all game, and Derby had been moaning and whining all the time. The ref also booked Page, presumably winning the ball cleanly deserves a double punishment such as this. Needless to say they scored. We didn't lose our heads and go on to lose the match - in fact, we attacked more. There was still time for the ref to book Fos, for reasons as yet unknown, I think it was probably for having the cheek to score a goal.

I didn't write this report on the way home as my sheer annoyance might have influenced it. I suppose it seems strange to be delighted at getting a point at fellow strugglers West Brom, and gutted at getting a point at the league leaders, but to lose out on those two points because of a highly dubious decision seems so unfair. The fact remains that Derby would not have scored any other way - our defence were not going to let them.

This may seem to be sour grapes to many people - we probably didn't deserve to win - but this decision could ultimately relegate us. A win would have put us three points behind Scum, six points behind Sheffield United (with two games in hand on them) and generally closer to the pack. Instead, we are still two wins off the second bottom side.

So many people say these decisions even themselves out over the season. Funnily enough, it is only the teams such as Derby and Man United that believe this. The way I see it, those at the top get all the luck and decisions their way, and those at the bottom, who are in desperate need of this luck find themselves kicked in the teeth. Just ask Southampton and QPR what they think.

We have had several awful refs, but this one was diabolical even by our crap standards. The penalty decision was atrocious - Page was backed up by the TV and reports - but to also book half our side in the process is a fair indication that he has been a little less than favourable to us. Even Jim Smith admitted it was never a penalty. Unfortunately that will not give us our two points back.

On leaving the ground, I overheard a Derby fan say that we should be happy getting a point at the league leaders. Oh, I'm wildly ecstatic. With refs like that, I can now understand how that manage to be top of the table. Having got all that off my chest, I don't feel any less angry. Let's hope we can take it all out on West Brom and their stewards...