A return to form
Report by Ian Grant
Perhaps the Charlton debacle may have some benefits after all. Glenn Roeder has made it very clear, without naming names, that he's not prepared to accept performances like that and the players seem to have responded. A draw at Grimsby was an improvement, this display was much more like what we pay to see. Nice to report on some good news, anyway...
Stoke are a wretched side, destined to struggle in the relegation zone for the rest of the season if I'm not mistaken, but that shouldn't obscure the importance of this game. With difficult matches against the likes of Palace, Ipswich, Birmingham and Tranmere approaching, we badly needed a win to restore confidence. What's more, the team had to prove a point to the fans - that they're capable of doing the business this season, just as they did in the last campaign. We wanted to know that Charlton was a one-off, never to be repeated, gone and forgotten nightmare.
In the end it was a fine victory but we started uncertainly, allowing Stoke a great deal of possession in the early periods of the game. Our failure to build moves was matched by Stoke's failure to create decent chances, but we looked rather edgy in defence. As so often when things aren't going our way, we tried to clear our lines in a rush, leaving the diminutive forwards without a hope. The reliance on Ramage for quality passes is always dangerous - his tendency to drift in and out of games (and he was completely AWOL for the first 25 minutes of this one) means that the defence has to learn to pass its way out of trouble. Aimless clearances will not do the job...
So Stoke threatened and achieved nothing. We booed Peschisolido for the Furlong sending off at Birmingham two seasons ago (I was there and it was unbelievable) as the team attempted to get going. We began to press forward a little more but Ramage's goal was still rather against the run of play (who cares, eh?). Gibbs and Bazeley linked up superbly on the right wing all afternoon - Gibbs is back to splendid form and looks like keeping a lacklustre Lavin out of the side for some time to come - and it was from here that the goal came. God knows what the Stoke defence was thinking about as the cross came over, but Ramage was completely unmarked and able to flick a header into the corner of the goal. Rams milked the acclaim as much as possible - nothing new there...
After that we took charge of the game. Stoke battled gamely but we were the better side, nerves settled by the goal and beginning to find the confidence to pass the ball around. As the service to the front two improved, so Tommy Mooney came into the game. I know Mooney has his critics and I can see why on occasions - he can look clumsy and uncoordinated - but when he's playing like this it's impossible to criticise. He's the heart and soul of the side, bombing up and down the pitch at a hundred miles an hour...and he scored an absolute beauty as half-time approached. Bursting down the left wing as usual, Tom cut inside, played a one-two with Payne and looked up as he approached the outside of the box. He's been threatening to score a screamer since he joined Watford - remember the close misses against Spurs and Palace last season? - and this time he did it. The right-foot shot just flew in, dipping under the bar - it was a majestic strike and I'll remember it fondly next time Tom hits the corner flag with one of his more usual Thirty Yard Specials.
Half-time came and everything was very rosy indeed, not least because I wasn't going to get blamed for another defeat by Kate. God knows what was said in the dressing rooms at the interval, but Stoke came out and played like they'd already been relegated. Good work, Mr Macari! They surrendered and we took full advantage. What had previously been a useful but unspectacular Watford performance became a real massacre, as the 'Orns surged forward in search of goals. If we give the strikers decent service, it won't matter how tall they are (we could have had Collymore and Shearer up front at Charlton and it wouldn't have made the slightest difference) and they proved that this afternoon. Prompted by Ramage, who turned on the style in the second half, Mooney and Phillips tore Stoke apart, threatening a complete rout.
It started early as Ramage, who'd decided after scoring that he wanted to play, glided his way into the penalty area and cut across to make room for a shot. He pushed the ball too far and, er, dived. The referee fell for it and Phillips took the job of starting this season's entries for the BSD Worst Penalty of the Season Award, blasting the ball way over the bar. We won a succession of free kicks on edge of the box for somewhat, erm, dubious fouls (put it this way, I'm glad the ref was lenient on the Stoke players, preferring yellow to red) - Ramage had a quick sighter after Phillips was fouled, then stepped up to take a more central kick from a foul on Mooney. He curled it beautifully over the wall, leaving the keeper with no chance, and strutted over to celebrate a lovely goal in front of the Vic Road end. Mooney had another go at winning a penalty a couple of minutes later but I think he was pushing his luck a bit - that would have been two penalties and two dangerous free kicks in about ten minutes...
Stoke were dead and buried. As Ramage came into his own, at last giving us a taste of his blinding skill, swaying and weaving through opposition players, curling the ball the length and breadth of the pitch, so we took total control. Battles were won all over the pitch - Bazeley tormented Stoke's left back, Johnson and Payne won possession and used it wisely, Mooney ran his legs off, Phillips found shooting chances and went close. At the back, Holdsworth appeared to be back to his commanding best, sweeping up with effortless efficiency as Stoke tried to pull a goal back.
We should have scored more - sadly, Kevin Phillips didn't appear to have his shooting boots on and Tommy Mooney was simply out of luck. However, the sight of Watford players passing the ball to feet quickly and accurately was a joy. For whatever reason (and a three goal lead helps, I guess) the confidence was clearly back - so much so that even Johnno was trying Ramage-esque flicks and tricks. It was wonderful to watch. Difficult to believe that this was the same team that played dumb hoof-and-hope football at Charlton. We lost some momentum towards the end, as relaxation took over and Stoke played for pride - the defence had to do a bit of work to keep a clean sheet - but Stoke were totally outplayed in the second period.
No time for celebration, unfortunately, as Palace will present a far sterner test than this poor Stoke side - that said, this was a crucial win with a frequently excellent team performance. It seems that some players have thought hard after the Charlton game and responded in the best way possible. The service to the strikers had to improve and, thankfully, it did - today, Tommy Mooney proved what he's capable of when the ball is played to his feet, doing devastating work for the Watford cause. He was the pick of the Watford players - mainly because he contributed brilliantly to the first half effort - but there were plenty of fine displays. A return to form? Well, let's hope so...
Ramage in the mood
Report by Kate Holmes
We were looking to build on the point gained at Grimsby, and this was always a good place to start. Stoke haven't been a good side to us, taking points from us too often for my liking. After the disaster of Barnsley, Ig made damn sure he didn't have the same seat. In fact, he didn't sit down till kick off - just making sure he wasn't to blame.
Things started off well when Kevin Miller came out to warm up. It was very nice to see him back, no disrespect to Steve Cherry but Kev is a brilliant keeper, not to mention my hero. Stoke had that cheating toad Pesch playing, and it was good to see him get some stick. Credit to David Holdsworth for smashing him on the back of the head.
The team was much the same as the one that played at Grimsby, and we still seemed to be suffering with a lack of confidence. Stoke started quite well, and much of the first twenty minutes was spent in our half. For all their possession, they never really created a chance for Kev to prove how brilliant he is. Super Kevin Phillips had two players on him every time he went near the ball, but in marking him they forgot to mark the Guv'nor - Ramage. A right wing cross from Gibbs was headed home by the totally unmarked Ramage. This was the first thing he did in the match, but it suddenly gave us a lift.
After we scored we began to play the ball around like we were last season. Darren Bazeley succeeded in annoying their fans by clashing with one of the Stoke players right in front of them. It was quite amusing to see him getting stick, violent thug that he is. The game was heading towards half-time when we extended our lead. A really good passing move led to Tommy Mooney cutting in to his right, and hit a beautiful shot into the top corner of the net. One of those shots that you just know is going in as soon as he hit it. Not long after that the ref blew for half-time.
The second half started with us starting to take the piss. I love to see Ramage in this sort of mood - he is one of the most skilful players in our division and one of the best when he plays like this. Ramage playing well usually ends in us winning convincingly. Not long into the second half, Ramage won us a penalty. We were all laughing as it looked like he had taken a dive. Super Kev stepped up to take it and was about to start his run up when the ref stopped him and moved the ball. I can't think why as it was perfectly on the spot. It served its purpose, as Super Kev managed to blast the ball high into the North Stand. Some things don't change.
This didn't seem to affect us at all, as we still came at them. Mooney broke through with only the keeper to beat, and got hacked down right on the edge of the penalty area. The player involved only got booked. While the wall was lining up, I pointed to the exact part of the net I wanted Ramage to hit the ball into. I was still pointing at it when Ramage took the kick, curled it round the wall and hit it into the part of the net I was pointing at. I am going to claim an assist for that one.
We were totally slaughtering them now, and the only way they could stop us was to foul Ramage. Richard Johnson in midfield played his best game for ages and his passing was something else. His vision is excellent but his delivery is not always accurate. He seemed to get it right this time. Super Kev up front did have a hard time, with being marked closely. Mooney ran out of steam towards the end, so he was replaced by Jamie Moralee. It is good to see him back, and I would love to see him do well. Six foot striker? Who needs one when you have Rambo in this sort of mood. All in all a very pleasing display, once we had got the first goal. Our defence looked solid, and Kev only had one save to make all day, and that was when we were 3-0 up.
Hopefully this will have taken the pressure off Roeder for a couple of days, and if I hear anybody mention the fact that we need a six foot striker, I will not be responsible for my actions. I think it is bloody obvious we need one, but unless I win the lottery on Saturday we cannot afford a decent player, bearing in mind that Chris Armstrong went for 4.5 million. Bring on the Palace, with Brucie back at Vicarage Road again.