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Nationwide League Division 1, 24/4/99
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 5, Kennedy 4, Page 4, Palmer 5, Robinson 4, Whittingham 3, *Hyde 5*, Mooney 4, Johnson 4, Wright 5
Subs: Smith (for Wright) 0, Hazan, Ngonge (for Whittingham) 3
Scorers: Hyde (6), Mooney (53)
Crystal Palace 1(0)
Scorers: McKenzie (87)
Ultimate possibility
Report by Ian Grant

"The chance of ultimate possibility kept repeating itself in his head, a mad little chant that would not stop, nor did he want it to. Too Much had explained it to him.... Everything is chance, and chance is everything, she had told him. Most people refused to believe that, because chance frightened them. But that was only ignorance. Chance contained every possibility. Of course, some of it might be bad...but a heartbeat away from what might be bad, unthinkably bad, was what might be unthinkably great, a bliss that even the gods would envy."

- Harry Crews, Celebration

Five straight wins, and we're exploring the chance of ultimate possibility for all it's worth. Everything stems from belief - once we started believing it was possible, it became so. To the extent where the weekend's other results mean that we just have to win three more games to reach the playoffs.

It's a lot to ask. Thrillingly, though, we're rising to the challenge. Whether we go out or not, this is still a blaze of glory.

You start to exhaust the superlatives after a while. Despite the fact that Palace might've pulled off a sickening comeback in the last five minutes, despite the fact that both goals owed more than a little to luck, despite the fact that the muse escaped us on occasions, this was another stunning display from the Hornets. The result was everything, yet what we got was so much more than a result.

From belief comes ambition, the confidence to set your sights high. We're attacking each game in the style of yesteryear, launching an assault on the opposition as if nothing less than a truckload of goals will do. Someone's gonna get hammered at this rate - only Kevin Miller stopped it from being Palace, the rest had better beware. Oh, and some of our attacking football just happens to be absolutely flippin' gorgeous....

Take a bow, Micah Hyde. Not since pre-lardass Ramage have we had a midfielder capable of producing moments of such gleaming quality. Fabulous, from the tackle-surfing grace of his dribbling to the piercing accuracy of his supply for the strikers. Class, class, class. And, for those who prefer to focus on his goal-scoring record, he wasn't all that far away from a hat-trick. It's time we were singing his name again.

Take a bow, Darren Bazeley. A player capable of brilliance and frustrating cowardice in unequal measure, he was all the former on this occasion. If you want evidence of the vast surge in confidence that's swamping Vicarage Road, look no further - I cannot recall Bazeley turning down the chance to take on a defender and get to the by-line on Saturday, nor can I recall anything but excellent final product when he got there. Tremendous.

Take a bow, Nicky Wright. A performance so intensely committed that it even eclipsed Tommy Mooney, parading the fearlessness that could yet win us promotion. After Saturday, Palace are added to the growing list of conquests, defences that can't live with his spirit as much as his skill. You star.

Ultimately, however, what we have here is another mighty team effort. The bits of action scribbled in my notebook are like the debris carried by a tidal wave, almost incidental to a greater force.

The first half was even, if you think that possession has anything to do with anything. Although Palace had their fair share of the play, the scoring chances were all down at the Rookery end - starting after just five minutes, when Hyde's through-ball forced a stray header from a defender and both Wright and Mooney were foiled by desperate blocks. The resulting corner was cleared to Kennedy, who returned it to Hyde. Turning down the first-time crossing opportunity, the midfielder made one of his darting runs down the left side of the penalty area before cutting a low ball through the six yard box. And, whether by goalkeeping error or defensive deflection, it went all the way through and into the bottom corner. It was the start that we needed - the key, of course, being that we'd gone out and earned it.

From then on, whenever we attacked, we did so in swarms. Pace 'n' power, the fluidity and movement of a side that's right on its game. Amazing to think that, less than a month ago, any forays into the final third were as nervously deliberate as boy scouts on their first orienteering expedition. Within a couple of minutes of Hyde's goal, Miller couldn't keep hold of a Bazeley cross and had to be rescued by a defender as Wright and Whittingham pounced, before Mooney headed a Hyde cross over shortly afterwards. At the Vic Road end, Morrison turned Page to fire in a shot from a tight angle, but Chamberlain was more than equal to it.

Nick Wright's galloping wing play set up Mooney after twenty-two minutes, the cross to the far post finding the Watford striker unmarked. His volleyed shot was into the ground, bouncing up awkwardly for Miller who excelled in tipping it over the bar. Less than a minute later, Wright was on the charge again, firing in a low shot that Miller spilled and only being denied by a defender's intervention as he closed in on the follow-up. Kennedy's scorching drive from distance, flicked over by Miller's fingertips, brought the first half to a close.

Except that Kennedy's scorching drive was after half an hour. I did say that the muse escaped us on occasions, and the final fifteen minutes before the interval was one such time. As Felix observed, it was as if we were unsure of the masterplan - whether to go all out for more goals or be a bit more cautious to protect the lead. For the first time in a while, and despite superb support from the home fans, we became too self-conscious.

Of course, those who were reared on Taylor-made Watford already know the masterplan inside out. And it doesn't usually involve being "a bit more cautious to protect the lead", no matter how important the game. The half-time switch of Michel Ngonge for Guy Whittingham was indicative of our intentions - the second half was ridiculously open, the only surprise being that it didn't yield even more goals.

For a brief period, Palace were on top. McKenzie contrived to stub his toe just as he was about to shoot, but the real let-off was still to come. After Chamberlain had failed to collect a cross from the right wing, all hell broke loose in the six yard box. For what seemed like an age, we waited for the net to bulge as bodies dived in and shots were blocked, before Morrison fired over on the turn.

That escape knocked the Hornets out of their daze. For thirty minutes, Palace were pulverised by lethal attacks from the home side. Almost immediately, the lead was extended. Kennedy's right wing free kick found Ngonge unmarked as Palace made a mess of their offside trap. He should've scored but managed to mis-time his header so badly that it was going embarrassingly wide. Fortunately, Mooney happened to be standing in the way - his face was a picture, surprise followed by delight as the ball hit him on the forehead and beat Miller.

And then we put them to the sword. We were glorious, insatiable. Ngonge slashed wastefully wide when put through by a defensive error; Miller blocked Mooney's diving header from yet another splendid Hyde cross; Ngonge was hauled down by a defender as he broke clear, the referee and linesman ignoring the foul and provoking lengthy protests from GT; an acrobatic volley from Mooney at a corner span inches wide; Hyde shaved the crossbar with a snatched shot from Kennedy's long throw, then intervened in the chaos caused by his own cross to clatter a volley that Miller stopped with his legs; Kennedy dissected the six yard box with the best cross of the day, pleading for a finishing touch.

We ought to have scored more. We didn't, but that should take nothing away from the approach work. We spread the play from side to side, quickly shifting the ball to areas of the field in which we could hurt Palace. We were never afraid to run at defenders, yet the constant movement always offered a simpler option when appropriate - not over-direct, not over-elaborate either. The final ball was spot on too, particularly in the quality of the crossing from both flanks. A reminder, not that we should need it, that this Watford side is built on more than work ethic and team spirit.

The failure to add the third goal, however, meant that we never quite killed Palace off. In the end, it didn't prove to be a problem. Only just, though. On sixty-eight minutes, a rare breakaway for the away side ended with a cross from the right wing, a header from Morrison and a superb save from Chamberlain down at the foot of his post. That would've made things very tense. As it turned out, the Palace goal - McKenzie netting from close range after an Austin cross got a near post flick - didn't come until late enough that we were able to hold out without too much panic. Again, the response from the supporters was magnificent - having gone a bit quiet, "Elton John's Taylor-made Army" echoed around Vicarage Road once more as the defence weathered the storm.

Like Matt's already said, there is that nagging feeling that this can't go on, that we're bound to suffer a setback sooner or later. It is only a feeling, though. Looking at this performance, there's no sign that the inevitable's about to kick us in the nuts. We have it in our own hands, superstition can go to hell. Vale, Barnsley, Grimsby...bring 'em on, bring 'em all on....

"Just because a man, naked and alone and dying of thirst in the desert, had never spread his arms like wings and flown away to a green oasis of cool water...did not mean that no man ever would. Admittedly, it would be an ultimate possibility. But that was her point, her only point. And it ought not to bring fear, but hope and happiness."

Six more wins. The chance of ultimate possibility.

See also: SE25, The Original Eagles