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Nationwide League Division 2, 11/4/98
Watford 1(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, *Palmer 4*, Millen 4, Mooney 2, Bazeley 3, Hyde 4, Lee 3, Johnson 3, Hazan 3
Subs: Robinson (for Hazan) 3, Easton (for Kennedy) 4, Noel-Williams (for Lee) 3
Scorers: Lee (9)
Wrexham 0(0)
So near
Report by Ian Grant

My thunder has been stolen.

Over three years, I have tried my very hardest to come up with bizarre and unexpected approaches to writing about twenty-two men and a lump of inflated cow. It hasn't been easy but I'm deeply proud of some of my more adventurous detours from the point in hand (Exhibit A: "The Accordian Player").

I have, however, been kidding myself. It has recently become clear that, when it comes to stretching metaphors to absurd lengths and littering otherwise lucid comment with utterly irrelevant drivel, I am just a humble apprentice. Graham Taylor is the master. (Exhibit B: "Deirdre Rachid".) Lord help us if he ever decides to write his autobiography....

But such piss-taking shouldn't hide the truth - Graham Taylor, increasingly wayward programme notes and all, has guided Watford Football Club to success yet again. We have so much to thank him for.

This long, long season is set for a joyful finale. To be honest, as someone who didn't even predict us to make the playoffs, I could be more bothered about the Championship. Barring absolute catastrophe, we've achieved our aims. As "Clap Your Hands" have eloquently put it, "The title would be the cherry on the cake...but we want the cake first."

The celebrations will have to wait a little longer anyway. This stumbling win takes us to within touching distance of promotion - the minor pitch invasion (which seemed to consist of Paul Robinson having a chat with all his mates) and Tommy Mooney's ridiculously passionate response to the Vic Road end were just tantalising tasters for what's likely to come on Monday. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, we're just waiting while the clock edges slowly forwards....

And that sense of nervous anticipation continues to be reflected in our play. It's to be hoped that having promotion cemented will result in some sort of relaxation - otherwise, it's difficult to see how we're going to string enough results together to overtake City. As so often recently, this was a comfortable win just waiting to happen. Ironically, bearing in mind that I've criticised various Watford sides for not using their brains enough, we're thinking too much, we're too aware of our nearly-but-not-quite situation.

I'm not sure that we touched the ball more than a couple of times during the first five minutes of this match. We were day-dreaming of shiny Championship medals and laps of honour, frankly. Wrexham passed the ball this way and that, while the handful of wide-awake Watford players flailed around in pursuit like it was a playground game. It was a mite embarrassing.

So Wrexham must have been rather surprised and unhappy to find themselves a goal down after just nine minutes. It wasn't only the first Watford attack of any note - it was also the first time the home side had strung together more than a couple of passes.

Flukey deflections aside, Jason Lee's role was again massive. His attempt to play a neat interchange with Darren Bazeley was in itself commendable - but it broke down and the ball was half-cleared to the right side of the Wrexham penalty area. Lee picked it up again and blasted a cross back into the box - it took a wicked flick off a defender and flew into the far corner of the goal. While it's definitely worth pointing out that Lee hasn't done himself any favours with a vast exhibition of missed chances, his overall contribution has been such that he deserves that lucky break. It's been long enough coming, let's face it.

The balance of play didn't change, though. Wrexham, so clearly a side in form, should have been level by half time. Wilson, on loan from the Red Filth and obviously a cut above the rest, was an ever-present danger and went close with a curling shot from the edge of the box. In my ignorance, I'd expected Wrexham to be more primitive than they proved to be - their football is markedly more stylish than that of recent visitors and fellow contenders Northampton Town.

I doubt if even Alec Chamberlain knows how he kept out Wrexham's best chance of the afternoon. For me, it was a case of head-in-hands as a cross from the right wing flew into the area and towards an expectant, unmarked striker at the far post. I remember groaning and waiting for the inevitable. There wasn't much wrong with the header either - but, somehow, Chamberlain had a hand in the way. He didn't even dive, it was just a reflexive response that almost seemed to happen in slow motion. From that save, the ball looped up and Steve Palmer, a player who seems almost permanently in the right place at the right time, headed clear from the goalline.

Finally, the game began to show signs of life - all Wrexham's attractive approach work had previously been admirable but deadly dull, like wholewheat lentil quiche. The referee lost control - always a crucial ingredient - with bookings for Palmer, Johnson, Mooney and one Wrexham player. The first two set the tone - hard-but-fair ball-winning challenges that were punished because, presumably, Robert Styles of Waterlooville has been paying rather too much attention to Havelange's insane dribblings (part of me is dreading the World Cup, it really is). No argument about the other two, mind.

With the crowd angered, things became more interesting and Watford's forays into opposition territory began to yield limited results. Lee's far-post header, which was blocked superbly on the line, was ruled offside before Johnson curled a tremendous free kick a few inches wide.

The second half followed a very familiar pattern. Except for one crucial detail, that is - for all their possession and pressure, Wrexham didn't snatch an equaliser.

Much of this was painful stuff. Sure, we defended extremely well - both Steve Palmer and Keith Millen had clearly made up their minds to stand in Wrexham's way for as long as it took to secure the result - but watching your side soak up pressure is never anything less than fraught.

All it takes is a bit of bad luck or a lapse in concentration. Surely we know that by now? Yet, bizarrely, the experience of recent weeks seems to have made us still more cautious. For much of the half, Wrexham simply swarmed all around our penalty area. That, apart from a couple of half-chances, they didn't find a way through is a source of great relief - but it'd be nice if, just occasionally, we could apply the old "attack is the best form of defence" adage with a bit more conviction.

We did eventually emerge from our air-raid shelters. Indeed, we came closer to scoring than our more dominant visitors as both Bazeley and Noel-Williams came within inches of deflecting off-target Johnson shots into the net. Bazeley was also unfortunate to find the Wrexham keeper in decisive mood as he threatened to wriggle through.

The last ten minutes were as nervous and noisy and joyful as the last ten minutes before promotion is virtually sealed should be. With the exception of one scramble following an injury-time free kick, the home side kept things tight. For the first time in about thirty-eight years, we didn't really look like conceding a goal in the final ten minutes.

The final whistle was a release as much as anything else. Until it's actually, totally, definitely, one hundred percent bomb-proof and mathematically certain, I'll not be counting any chickens. But even I'm pretty confident now....

By nine o'clock, sitting in the pub, enjoying the mellow warmth of a whisky-induced haze, I was unusually content with life. And, for those who don't know me, I'm not often content with life. It's been so long coming that the exhausting wait has, for me, put paid to any desire to go mental in celebration. It's like pretending to be shocked at a surprise birthday party you've known about for months. But, deep down, it feels so good, so satisfying to know that we've just about made it.

Graham Taylor's Programme Notes, 11/4/98

Having played Northampton off the park to finish with only a draw and then to have a last minute equaliser disallowed at Wigan, it is only natural to being to think about the injustice of it all.

However, as nearly everyone in the country will tell you, the person who is really suffering an injustice at present is Deirdre Rachid - at least that helps to put everything into perspective!

Evidently, over 19 million people - let me repeat that, 19 million people - watched the episode of Coronation Street as Deirdre was found guilty of fraud and sent to jail.

Apparently the actor who plays Jon Lindsay is on holiday in Spain but is having to have protection as he is being threatened with physical abuse by ex-pats who are avid viewers of 'The Street'.

I think the big question here at Vicarage Road is 'Who will get released first?'

Deirdre or the Watford supporters who are being put through their own kind of jail sentence. You are certainly serving time through no fault of your own!

What about the prison warder who took Deirdre to the door kidding her she was going to her appeal.

Well I suppose we know how she feels bearing in mind how close we have been to the Promotion Door only to have it slammed in our faces in the very last few minutes of quite a number of our games.

Like Deirdre we have just got to buckle down and wait for it all to happen - not easy is it?

You will have already guessed I was one of the 19 million viewers, in fact I've been watching 'The Street' since the black and white days - sad isn't it - but I am not too proud to admit it.

We all need a form of escapism from the real world and yet not that far from it to know that what we are witnessing could not happen in reality.

That's what keeps the tension there, that's why it is a good story line but most importantly that's what keeps the viewing figures at such high levels.

In a similar way a game of football can be likened to a soap opera - it can arouse so many different emotions for so, so many people.

At the end of it you can be drained emotionally and yet you have not physically kicked a ball, made a run, put in a tackle or saved a shot - but you have lived every minute of the game.

At present it seems that the whole of the country is waiting for Deirdre to be released because she doesn't deserve the treatment she is receiving.

Can I, on behalf of the Watford supporters, make an appeal to the Watford Dressing Room:

"Lads, we don't deserve this treatment, we are receiving either, so never mind Deirdre Rachid - you've got the key to our release, it's called talent and commitment and you've got plenty of both - so please use it and then we can all have a big party."

Best wishes

Graham Taylor.