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FA Carling Premiership, 1/4/00
Loyal supporters...
By Ian Grant

support sðpport',-pört', v.t. to bear the weight of: to hold up: to endure: to sustain: to maintain: to keep going: to corroborate: to make good: to uphold: to back up: to second: to contend for: to represent in acting: to supply with means of living: to nourish: to strengthen

So, Everton fans. Does that ring any bells? Any sense of embarrassment at all?

There was a moment on Saturday, when Goodison Park was echoing to the sound of fifteen hundred Watford fans belting out "WE LOVE YOU WATFORD, WE DO", that summed up the whole afternoon.

Relegation is imminent, even more so with Derby winning as I write this. Bottom of the league, without an away win to reward our journeys since August. Losing weakly in a game that, once more, we needed to win. To the outside world, we've nothing whatsoever to sing about...but we're on our feet, heads held high, chanting "THERE'S ONLY ONE GRAHAM TAYLOR" while our hosts look on in silent bewilderment.

When it goes quiet, you can hear the muttering about lack of quality and shameful performances and "not good enough" and so on from people who'd rather sit and sulk just to make a point. It doesn't often go quiet, though. We're too busy going out in style, showing the Premiership what this supporting lark is all about, right to the very letter of the dictionary definition. We'll support you ever more, from Old Trafford to Roots Hall. Perhaps it's too much for others to understand, perhaps it's a culture that no longer exists at England's top clubs, perhaps we'll all go as quiet as the Everton fans when expectations are higher next season. Whatever, we've been a silver lining this season.

By midway through the second half, the scene was completely absurd. Having failed to awaken the home fans with this season's customary taunts - the single syllable explanation of "WE SING 'CAUSE WE LOVE OUR TEAM", the blunt accusation of "PLASTIC SUPPORTERS", plus "YOU'RE WORSE THAN MAN UNITED" for good measure - it went further. Suddenly, the silence around the ground was filled with a generous offer. "SHALL WE HELP YOU SING A SONG?" we chorused, before keeping the promise with a chant of "EVERTON, EVERTON, EVERTON...".

Next time someone, whether Hornet or foe, comments that this season has been a humiliating exercise, there's an obvious response. At least we've still got some bloody pride. At least we've not sunk so low that visiting fans are taking it upon themselves to sing our songs on our behalf, and are still not getting a reaction. To repeat - any sense of embarrassment at all, Everton fans?

So, yeah, we lost again. But a day that had verged on disastrous - traffic jams on the M6, flat tyre in the outside lane with consequent brown trousers experience, arrival mere seconds before kickoff - ended up being rather enjoyable. Such was the moral victory in the stands, the fatal blow to our survival hopes was hardly felt at all. If only final nails were always so painless.

It wasn't a game that deserved six goals, in all honesty. The quality of entertainment was roughly equal to the quality of defending, and it won't live long in the memory.

Fifteen minutes had passed before the first shot, which was Barmby's off-target drive from outside the area. In that time, there were a couple of close calls - Barmby and Moore nearly bundling their way through, Micah Hyde attempting to send Tommy Smith away - but it was a game that was going nowhere. In fact, to steal inspiration from our earlier mis-hap, it was a game that was going nowhere very fast in the outside lane with a flat tyre.

The absence of Robert Page was to be keenly felt, however. Although error-prone, Page has recently been instrumental in stemming the flow of goals from crosses. Sadly, Mark Williams was very not instrumental in stemming the flow of goals from crosses.

So Everton finally showed their winning hand. Pembridge's corner came off Xavier and ended up on the other wing, Cox half-cleared after the ball had been crossed back in. When Pembridge had another go, Mark Hughes arrived at the near post to crash past Williams and score with a thumping header. And that was it - the utter failure to be quicker and stronger when the ball came into the box from the flanks cost us this match, nothing else.

Nothing else. Our midfield might've been feeble, but the attack more than compensated and we'd have been in a position to win the game if we'd protected our goal properly. The point of building towards Premiership survival is that we aim for results, not footballing perfection. We played with enough quality in the final third to score without dominating and that's a vital piece of the jigsaw. In a parallel reality, this was a solid 2-0 win. Hopefully, we'll have another crack at making it a real reality in a couple of years.

But, on Saturday as too often, we weren't up to the task. Because we couldn't defend. We're going round in circles, just like the match went round in circles. Although we were in the ascendancy - Gerrard clearing outside his area as Smith sprinted through, Easton's free kick nearly gaining a decisive deflection as it curled goal-wards - we were undone in the same manner as before. Barmby's run and chipped cross from the right, Moore getting between Cox and Williams to double the lead with a precise header. Oh, hell.

Round and round in circles. Within five minutes, after Ball had driven wide from distance, we had some hope. It was all courtesy of Tommy Smith. Feeding off meagre morsels from an over-run midfield, his was a darting, adventurous, fearless, brilliant presence throughout. Nothing was wasted, our attacking threat hugely amplified whenever the ball arrived at his feet. So he gained possession in his own half and just ran, straight through the heart of the Everton midfield with opponents tumbling in his wake. Seeing Smart's intelligent run across the defensive line, he poked the ball through...and, not for the first time in recent weeks, the youngster had single-handedly created a goal for his striking partner, the finish only a matter of nudging a shot past Gerrard. Well played, Tommy Smith.

Round and round. A minute later, the worst defending so far allowed Everton to restore their two goal lead. Paul Robinson might've done more to prevent Mark Hughes from casually knocking in a cross, Mark Williams should've been first to the ball at the near post, Alec Chamberlain should've kept Moore's scuffed effort out. Really, we've shot ourselves in the foot so many times this season, it's surprising any of the players can still walk.

Within a couple of minutes, Nordin Wooter couldn't still walk. Despite failing to recreate his recent form, his injury seemed to crush any remaining hope - thankfully, a brief chat later as the players got off the coach at Watford Junction revealed that he's not likely to be out for more than a day or so. But half-time was weary and depressing. A long way from home, an equally long way from the win that would've taken us off the bottom of the table.

For another quarter of an hour, it got no better. Darren Ward replaced the hapless Williams and has clearly been planted in MiracleGro for the last few months but our defending was still chaotic, if rather more combative. Xavier blasted a shot wildly into the stand, then Barmby's crafty cross was headed away from the line and Ward blocked the follow-up effort.

From a corner, Cox blasted just over the bar from Smart's near post flick...the only slight technical glitch being that the corner was Everton's, not ours. After the subsequent corner was half-cleared and played back in, Stephen Hughes headed at Chamberlain.

Gradually, though, Everton lost interest and our natural belligerence started to win through. Until we managed to work the ball towards the front two, we were still unconvincing...but that didn't seem to bother the away contigent, crammed into a corner and providing disproportionately passionate support. There were many moments when you needed a scoreboard, just to be sure that you weren't imagining things. As we loudly demanded and received a wave from GT on the other side of the pitch, for example, anyone wandering in and looking at the contrasting moods in the stands would've come to the conclusion that a famous Watford victory was in progress.

We rose in celebration after twenty minutes, after more brilliance from Smith out on the left wing had supplied Smart with a near post chance. The ball brushed the side netting, but the appearance was deceptive and it'd gone the wrong side of the post. After briefly deriding our premature joy and reminding us of our impending return to the Nationwide (yeah, we know), the home fans went back to sleep.

On the pitch, we trundled around rather aimlessly. Off the pitch, we were having a bit of a party. Convention and miserable people say that relegation means wearing tear-smudged face paint, sitting down and staring blankly into the distance while the "Match Of The Day" cameras film your pain for the amusement of the nation. B'locks to all that, frankly. We have not have achieved all that we'd hoped this season, but anyone who suggests we've nothing worth celebrating has obviously forgotten May 31st already - we wanted to be here, we should be bloody proud to be here, we should aspire to being here again. And, more than anything, we should show the rest of the world that Watford Football Club needs the Premiership considerably less than the Premiership needs Watford Football Club.

Micah Hyde's superb strike, a half-volley from nearly thirty yards that arrowed its way precisely into the bottom corner, set up a grand finale. We bellowed "YOU WEREN'T SINGING, YOU WEREN'T SINGING, YOU WEREN'T SINGING ANYWAY" at the Everton fans and roared the team on towards a miraculous comeback. Which never happened, Johnson's high long-range shot being the only effort of any note.

The fourth goal finally killed the game, and it was the worst of the lot. Hyde and Ward stood and waited for each other to clear Xavier's header before contriving to do nothing more than knock the ball to Stephen Hughes, who whacked it home. It was Ward's fault, essentially - as a central defender, it's your job to clear the danger, even if that means rudely barging your own player out of the way in the process.

Our spirits weren't dampened for long. By the final whistle, "LET'S ALL HAVE A DISCO" was in full swing and there were broad grins all over the place. The latest in a very long line of defeats was greeted with defiance and pride, rather than resignation and misery. That's just wonderful - on this evidence, you'd all be well advised to get along to an away game or two before the end of the season, particularly the final extravaganza at the Riverside.

I can't recall ever seeing so many smiling faces after such a disappointing performance. Similarly, I can't recall ever feeling so content with life on the long journey home from an away defeat. It felt like we'd won...and, in a significant way, we had. If that looks ridiculous in black and white, then maybe we've reached the limits of what these reports can convey. Maybe you really did have to be there.

The fat lady started singing on Saturday. But she was drowned out by fifteen hundred Hornets screaming "WATFORD 'TIL I DIE"....