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98/99: Review:
Mid-season review
Looking good for mid-table
By Chris Lawton

Back in the warm, sunny days of August I confidently predicted that the mighty Watford would struggle at first and end the season mid-table, maybe as high as eighth place. I am still confident that we will achieve at least that position - although perhaps not by the route any of us might have expected. I mean, hands up if you thought we would be third at the mid-point of the season.

The first match of the season was fine fare indeed and ironically the performance on the pitch that day seems to have dictated the fortunes of both Watford and Portsmouth. Under pressure, but never out of it, the lads turned in a great second half performance to get the season off to a cracking start - even if there was a slice of luck in the own goal.

A few days later we were undone by Cambridge. Quite how is a mystery in the light of all that has happened since, but dump us out of the cup they did. Again I think this was a key step on the learning curve - the players realising they couldn't take anything for granted.

So the season wound on. Apart from a few dire efforts like Huddersfield, Wolves, West Brom and the first twenty minutes at Swindon, the Golden Boys have battled hard and played some of the finest football ever seen at Vicarage Road. Make no mistake, third in the First Divison now is a far higher standard than bottom of the old Div One all those years ago.

What defines this season for me, however, is the mental strength shown. After all those aforementioned matches the lads have responded to turn in a good performance. The win at Bolton, the twenty minute spell at Swindon in which we completely destroyed the opposition and so on. This is one of the strongest teams to play for us. It has been a long time since Watford has represented tough opposition that will punish you for your mistakes.

In recent weeks there has been much talk from the fans, and management, about luck. I would argue that so far this season it has averaged out. When we talk of penalties not given and poor decisions it is easy to forget the freak own goal at Portsmouth, or Bradford at home, or the first twenty minutes at Swindon when we should have been out of the game.

The conclusion - we are in third place on merit. It reflects our performances and the luck we have, or haven't, had. The next few weeks are crucial. If we can keep the momentum going then I am confident that we have a good chance of overtaking Ipswich. I think that we have to be realistic and say we are fighting for that one spot - Sunderland are out of sight as far as I am concerned.

So who knows what the next few weeks and months will bring. Whatever happens, it has been a cracking few weeks and the team deserves more in terms of support than is being shown at the moment - but then I am guilty on that one so perhaps I should keep quiet.

Enjoy your Xmas and New Year and lets hope 99 is as good as 98!

Halfway there...
By Andy Stocks

Well, we're now halfway through our first season back in Division One and what fun it's been. Who would have thought that we would be third at this point. Not me. Mid-table would have satisfied me, but Graham Taylor and the rest of the club had different ideas.

It started with a trip to sunny Portsmouth. The heat certainly seemed to get to our lads and it looked like we were heading to defeat, then Darren Bazeley came on as sub, and worked some of his magic out wide on the right. His introduction changed the game entirely. An extremely fortunate (from our point of view) own goal, then a fantastically well-taken header by Jason Lee, saw the Hornets Nest starting to buzz.

Indeed, fortune has been on our side in a number of games so far, Bradford, Ipswich and Portsmouth are certainly evidence of that. Swindon was simply bizarre. How on earth were we 2-1 up at half time, they were all over us in that first half. The second half was a different story, we dominated.

Football has a way of evening out the luck during the course of a season, and so it has proved so far. A couple of dives have deprived us of points, and bad performances here and there have cost us games. You see, it pretty much evens itself out in the end.

Already this season, we have been treated to some of the most outstanding football seen at Vicarage Road for years. Taylor's attacking instincts have once again been confirmed, with goals being plentiful at both ends. This attacking style is not just on show at Vicarage Road, but has been clear to see on our travels as well, with results at Bristol City, Swindon and Bolton among others, showing that Watford won't settle for a point away, but want all three.

The team has really gelled together remarkably well. After an indifferent start, where we were lucky to get some good results, we have gone on to look like a side capable of challenging any in the division.

Chamberlain is as consistent as ever, with the occasional inspired save. The defence has been changed around quite a lot, mainly due to injuries. Yates looked good until he got injured, but that allowed Page back into the side, and he's looked impressive apart from the occasional lapse in concentration. Palmer too has been impressive. Millen and Gibbs both performed consistently well before injuries intervened.

Bazeley, Robbo and Kennedy have also looked to be on top form wherever they have been asked to play. Hyde just gets better and better, what a bargain he was. Always back to make an important defensive tackle, then up there on the attack moments later. Johnno is certainly more attack minded. Once again scoring some memorable goals, and making an early claim for goal of the season with THAT volley from thirty yards at Bristol.

Wright improves with every game and looks to be another bargain, but the player that has to be the bargain of the summer is Allan Smart. He is composed on the ball, has a good eye for goal, holds the ball up well, chases everything down, is great in the air, need I say more. Possibly the most important thing that Allan Smart contributes is that he seems to have brought out the best in Gifton Noel-Williams. GNW is a different player this season. His confidence is sky high, he's holding the ball up well, his passing has improved and he's finding the net consistently. He truly looks like a class player as he terrorises bewildered defenders. Surely he deserves more protection from the referees as opponents climb all over him as they attempt to slow his charge towards goal.

I've mentioned many players, but left several out as well. The fact that so many spring to mind is indicative of the squad that we have at present. So many of the players are playing as well as they have ever played in their careers. We have a good team, with no-one particularly standing out as a star.

The home support has been disappointing to say the least. To blame it all on the ticket prices is a mistake. Of course, the summer increase was one contributing factor to the drop in attendances, but should not take the sole blame. Watford FC have many competitors for our money and I'm not just talking about other football clubs, so the club should not state statistics about prices being average for the division, or whatever it is they are saying. There are usually several reasons why people decide not to go to a game, not just price, although it is often the major factor.

It is encouraging to see that Howard Wells appears to be listening to the concerns of the fans, and more importantly, responding to them. Whilst I'm on the topic of attendances, I'd like to say how good the travelling support has been. Sunderland, Palace and other clubs have commented on how good we were. See, it's not all bad!! The amount of travelling support has also been encouraging, certainly our league position and style of play has helped to increase numbers, but it's still a credit to the team, the fans and the club as a whole.

So, a very encouraging first half to the campaign, we are third - THIRD!!!! Much better than I ever hoped for. The quality of play is so much higher than last season, the team is playing well as a unit and there are plenty of goals to be seen. If the second half of the season is this exciting, then I will be delighted. Already I feel that I have had value for money from my season ticket. Graham Taylor is a genius. He has build up a squad that is on the verge of the Premiership, and he's done it with very little money. Indeed in the last few weeks he's added to the squad. Another international player, for next to nothing!! Can we do it, can we go up?? Only time will tell, but what a good time it will be. If you are reading this and haven't been to a game this season, then try to go because you are missing out on seeing the best football I've seen Watford play for years and what could be a very good side. See you at the Vic.

Come on you 'Orns!!!