Icons of Premiership life
By Daniel Owens
Getting off the coach, you are surrounded by icons of Premiership life. Dodgy merchandise stalls, murmuring ticket touts and, most horrific of all, glossy programmes for an exorbitant £3. Three bloody quid for five pages of regurgitated pen pics of our beloved Golden Boys, written by Chelsea 'legend', Eddie Niedswicki.
You are forced to walk through the corporate dream world that is Chelsea Village, a plush hotel, upmarket fish restaurants, exclusive bars, you almost forget you are meant to be at a football match.
On entering the ground you are confronted by yet more merchandise - £3 hot dogs (plus 50p for a slice of cold processed cheese), and Chelsea TV blaring out to all and sundry. The latter did provide some amusement, however, as they were showing the Blues demolish L*t*n 4-0 in the FA Cup semi-final a few years back. The cheers echoed around the intriguing labyrinth of the East Stand Concourse as Peacock rifled home his second. Bemused Blues looked on in silent bewilderment.
Taking our seats in the latest plastic-orientated stadium we have encountered on our travels, I felt a rare sensation of confidence creep into my somewhat oversized stomach. We may go down, I thought, but we're gonna go down bloody well fighting, starting today.
Mind you, some of this confidence faded rather sharply as Chelsea took to the field, Deschamps, Desailly, Poyet, Zola, how exactly did we beat them all those long, cold months ago?
Within ninety seconds my confidence was shattered. A free kick whipped in from the left caught us sleeping, the towering Desailly holding off the challenge of two Hornet defenders to head unceremoniously past the despairing right hand of the recalled Chamberlain in the Watford goal. 1-0. First of many?
Well, no. What followed was pulsating attacking football worthy of the upper echelons of the Premiership. Chelsea had the better of the first twenty minutes and could have added to their early goal. Poyet and Flo both having chances and Chamberlain pulling off a wonderful save from, I think, Zola.
We responded in a style reminiscent of last season's surge to Wembley. Refusing to acknowledge the plethora of stars on the other side we tore into them, giving everything in our artillery. Smart led the line superbly, his movement sharp and strength impressive. He was backed up by the excellent Hyde, who has shown in recent weeks that he really does have the ability to play, and play well, at this level. At the back Page, Gibbs and the imposing Williams looked composed and assured. We looked like we belonged in the Premiership.
We began to launch raid after raid on the Chelsea penalty area, Kennedy providing useful width down the left. Indeed, it was from this side that so nearly came the equaliser. Kennedy's cross eluded Wooter and it fell to Smart, who volleyed against the crossbar before Williams scuffed the rebound against a post.
This only served to spur us on and soon we had drawn level. Helguson's acrobatic volley drew a scrambling save from de Goey and Smart gleefully rammed home the rebound. 1-1. Game on.
We continued to press as half time drew ever closer, Kennedy's 35-yard bullet flying inches wide. At the whistle we sung our heroes off the park while the suits to our right checked their share dealings...probably! The Chelsea fans contributed little to the atmosphere and did not even applaud their team back into the fray for the second half. Needless to say, the Golden Boys reappeared to a rapturous welcome.
The second half started as the first had ended, constant Watford pressure. Incisive passing from the midfield, excellent linking from the front two, we were looking genuinely dangerous. Smart twice went close, Wooter weaved his customary, sometimes frustrating magic, and Bonnot probed to good effect. Steve Palmer even brought a comedy save from the clown de Goey after a hopelessly mishit cross.
Yellow shirts poured into the Chelsea area, desperate to get that oh-so-vital goal. But herein lay the problem, with so many forward we were woefully short at the back and one sublime volleyed pass from the aging Deschamps was all it took to put the ever-willing Petrescu in the clear. The diminutive Romanian scampered down the right before delivering a sumptuous ball to the head of the onrushing Harley at the far post. His header was crisp and sailed into the top corner.
So, 2-1 down, out for the count surely? Er, no, this is Watford, remember. We battled to the end, Helguson turning Desailly brilliantly before firing straight at de Goey. Kennedy's left boot taking aim from long range and Smart continuing to impress. But there was no way back.
Yet another defeat, but we certainly did enough for a point, maybe all three. We remain ten points adrift and will go down, but next season could be very, very interesting. (And I won't have to fork out three quid for a bloody programme!)