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96/97: Reports:

Coca-Cola Cup 2nd Round 2nd Leg, 24/9/96
Sunderland 1(0)
Scorers: Scott (6)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Miller 3, Gibbs 2, Ludden 2, R Johnson 2, *Palmer 5*, Page 4, Bazeley 3, Andrews 2, White 2, Penrice 2, Mooney 3
Subs: Talboys 2, Ward, Noel-Williams 4
Mass celebrations
Report by Kate Holmes

I think it is times like these that you really begin to wonder about your sanity. I must be absolutely mad to travel up to Sunderland on a Tuesday night, having worked in the morning, and having to go to work the following day as well, knowing that we didn't stand a cat in hell's chance of going through, and to a ground that is amongst the worst in the top two divisions.

So off I trundled, six hours of sitting in a coach, getting taken in the scenic route. I have been lost many a time around the outskirts of Sunderland, but this was a new route for me. It also seemed to be a very long route. I will swear that someone has moved Sunderland since I went up there last year.

Anyway, having finally arrived and discovered we were in the opposite corner to the previous 10 visits, I got onto the terrace and had to fight through literally tens of people to get a half way decent view. I think we managed to break the 100 mark for Watford fans, but that might have been by including the players. We were subjected to a lot of ridicule by the Sunderland fans, mostly coming from those with voices not yet broken. Mind you, I think our chants of "This is all we take away" and "Yes, we came in a Taxi" confused them somewhat.

Onto the team news, knowing we were without Gary Porter, out with a broken leg. Last season I would have been happier, but he has played well this season, and I get the feeling we are going to miss him. Rams was also out, and somewhat surprisingly so was Keith Millen. We put Palmer back in defence alongside Robert Page, and played Johnno and Penrice in midfield. I would have put Darren Ward - who was only sub - straight into the side, and left Palmer in midfield. I was surprised to see Wayne starting the game, as I think he needed a rest, and even more surprised to see Gifton Noel-Williams as sub.

The game was pretty boring, not much happening. They scored quite early to really kill the tie stone dead, and the rest of the match was playing out for time, and trying to keep the score down to a reasonable level. Or at least that's what it should have been. Sunderland were extremely poor, and if I was one of their fans (thank god I'm not) I would be very worried. Watford looked like an average 2nd division side, and one with a lot of injury worries, and Sunderland struggled to beat us. In fact we could and should have got a draw out of this match.

I think all the Hornets fans were just treating this as a bit of a joke, leading mass celebrations when we got a corner, and just taking the piss out of their fans. We were crap, but at least we know we were. Half time came, and with it one of the more entertaining aspects. One of our fans was picked to go on the pitch to battle out a penalty shoot-out with a Mackern. In true Watford fashion, he proceeded to miss every penalty until he finally scored with the last shot. He maintains that the keeper wasn't really trying with the Sunderland penalties, and blamed the pitch etc. He came back on the terrace to a hero's reception.

The second half was fairly end to end, although Kev really didn't have a save to make. Then we were treated to what I believe is a little bit of Watford history being createtd. Gifton replaced Wayne, and I think that makes him the youngest ever Watford player in a competitive first team match. We know that Keith Mercer was 16 years 9 months old, and Gifton was only 15 when his daughter was conceived (Lucia was born on 14 September 1996) so using my elementary mathematics, I reckon he is younger than Mercer was.

Gifton did quite well, considering the circumstances. He had a couple of shots, and a few runs at the defence. We came close to scoring with Coton making a couple of saves, and Mooney hit the post. That was basically it. At least the players applauded us for turning up. All that was left was to start singing "We've got to phone for a taxi" and leave Roker Park forever. Unless we get them in the FA Cup.

Outside the ground, we were treated to quite a few comments of how shit we were, and I don't think they appreciated us pointing out that they only beat us 1-0 and we had a 16 year old playing up front. Still, at least I can say I was there to witness Gifton's debut, so when he completes his 15th hat-trick for Trinidad & Tobago (or wherever it is he's from) to win them the World Cup, I can say I saw his first professional match. So there.