Endsleigh League Division 1, 27/4/96
Norwich City 1(0)
Team: *Miller 5*, Bazeley 3, Barnes 3, Hessenthaler 4, Page 4, White 3, Porter 4, Palmer 5, Ramage 3, Mooney 4, Connolly 3
Subs: Payne, Ludden (for Barnes) 3, Moralee
Scorers: Connolly (pen), Porter
A result that could mean so much
Report by Ian Grant
A perfect day, in all respects. The kind of day when I wish I didn't believe that the lottery is a vile government tax - my numbers probably would've come up. This was a bit special.
The number of travelling Hornets was pretty impressive, the volume they generated, particularly after Gary Porter's goal, was amazing. Having the players come over during the warm-up to sign autographs for the fans was clearly meant as a gesture of solidarity - the supporters responded and, for once, everyone was pulling in the same direction. We all knew that defeat here would relegate us and that, even with a victory, other results would have to go our way for survival to be a possibility. In the end, it was a tremendous effort with an even better result.
With the sense of anticipation almost unbearable, the away section errupted after two minutes when we took the lead. Devon White flicked on a header to David Connolly, who turned his defender in the box and was brought down in the process. The youngster took the responsibility of taking the penalty and calmly sent the keeper the wrong way. The celebrations were anything but calm - a bundle of Watford players in front of their jubilant supporters.
The early lead didn't really do us any favours, though. For the rest of the half we defended too deeply, invited Norwich to come at us and were more than a little fortunate to be ahead at the break. That we did survive was mainly due to Kevin Miller, although his defence did well to protect him as much as possible. Miller was forced to claim several tricky crosses, field long-range shots and smother the ball at strikers' feet - routine goalkeeping perhaps, but he did it in exemplary fashion.
However, Miller was powerless to stop a looping shot that clipped the top of the crossbar - there's no doubt that we rode our luck during the first half. His best save came in getting both hands to a goal-bound shot, then picking himself up to grab the rebound. Miller was by far the busier keeper because our attacking efforts, again hindered by an over-fussy referee, amounted to very little. Connolly found the experience of playing up against big, strong defenders a difficult one and was knocked off the ball too easily (that said, he still did enough to score one and have another disallowed). Similarly, White came off second best in most of the aerial challenges (although, again, he got the vital flick for the first goal) and our increasingly desperated long clearances often came straight back at us.
The second half was extraordinary. Norwich carried on as they'd left off, putting our defence under serious pressure and forcing Miller into an astounding point-blank save from a header early on. The equaliser came after ten minutes - Fleck got in a tangle with White on the edge of the box and the referee game a debatable free kick. From a position that ought to allow any deadball specialist worth their salt to score, Crook curled the ball into the top corner.
Just as the early penalty had made us retreat, so the equaliser spurred us on. We knew a draw wouldn't be enough and I desperately didn't want to endure a four hour train journey having seen us relegated. Within a few minutes, Connolly had broken through and slipped the ball past the keeper - it was ruled out by the linesman's late flag. Then, on 67 minutes, Gary Porter collected the ball in midfield, looked up and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner - Gunn got his hands to it but he couldn't keep it out. What a time to score your first of the season.
Although Norwich failed to test Miller again as our defence stood firm, the remaining minutes were tense beyond belief. Every clearance was greeted by an increase in volume from the Watford fans - by the final whistle, I was a hoarse and emotional wreck. The collective celebatrations of players and fans were nothing compared to the scenes that greeted the other results (Luton relegated; Portsmouth, Reading and Millwall losing; Oldham drawing). We went absolutely mental.
What followed nearly finished me off completely. Norwich fans in the end nearest us, staying behind to demonstrate against their asset-stripping chairman, all turned and applauded us. We responded in kind, then started joining in their chants of "Chase out", occasionally raising the roof with massive renditions of "We are staying up". As both sets of fans drifted away long after the final whistle, they acknowledged each other's applause. I have never seen anything like it.
There's a lot of work to be done yet - we have to beat Leicester, which won't be at all easy, and hope that others continue to slip up - but, if we stay up, this one will be remembered like Peterborough two seasons ago is remembered. The game of football wasn't much to look at (I'm not even convinced that we deserved to win it - who cares!) and the performance had none of the thrilling verve of Grimsby or Reading, yet we came up with a result that could mean so much. I dare say there were a few glasses being raised to the 'Orns in Watford on Saturday night and rightly so, but the supporters deserve every bit as much credit for this one.
If this was tense (and, Christ, it was seriously tense) then Sunday's going to be twice as bad. All we can do is go out there and win, the rest is out of our control.