By Matt Rowson
We left Elland Road. With opportunism that Kevin Phillips would be proud of, my brother spied, through the crowd, a lone cab with its light on. At 10pm, that's a valuable art. We piled into the car, and as he settled into his seat, Spencer sighed, and with his face glowing uttered the most ludicrous sentence of the season.
"I haven't enjoyed a game that much in a long, long time".
How absurd. Bottom of the league, no away wins since August and a full house of away defeats since the turn of the year. This latest entry in our catalogue condemned us to both 20th place in the final reckoning and the lowest ever points total recorded in the Premiership. And yet Spencer hadn't enjoyed the game this much for ages. Nor had the rest of us.
I will get on to the football eventually, honest I will. But today's story is as much about what happened off the pitch. At several Premiership stadia this season we've embarrassed the support of more illustrious opponents, but never to this degree. This was as decisive and total as our fanciful memories have painted the days at Goodison and Old Trafford.
Relentless noise. Well-served by the acoustics of our corner, the singing was incessant and merciless, with a twenty minute burst of "Elton John's Taylor-Made Army" at the start of the second half chest-beatingly ferocious.
From Leeds, nothing.
On the pitch, Watford started with the same eleven as had faced Manchester United, with the exception of the intimidatingly scalped Chris Day in for Alec Chamberlain. Perhaps the biggest outfield surprise was the continued inclusion of Foley, but this was a tidy and not inconsequential performance from the Irishman, of which more later.
Leeds started like a team who really had something to play for, and for fifteen minutes it was backs to the wall stuff, with another gumping apparently on the cards. Unlike Sunderland, for example, there's no obvious "system" here… Kewell is prodigiously talented, but it was hardly as if everything was sent through him (as had appeared to be the case at Vicarage Road). Nor was there an obvious target man to aim at (much to the chagrin of the omitted Wilcox). The threats were from every quarter.
It looked as if we had weathered the storm. Daisy had no spectacular saves to make, but any number of challenges and blocks went in during this period, not least from Ward, whose limbs were everywhere, and Cox, who made one particularly improbable tackle on the lively Kewell.
Then Leeds scored. We didn't care much.
The longer the half went on, the more likely we were to get back into it. Increasingly enjoying spells of pressure, we negated much of Leeds' attacking threat by pulling a surprisingly easy offside trap, Darren Huckerby, predictably, the chief culprit.
The goal, when it arrived, was gorgeous. Hyde found Perpetuini on the left, who sent a very deep cross to the far post. Helguson leapt impossibly high to cushion the ball down to Foley, whose crisp half volley left Martyn with no chance. Olé, olé olé olé, Foley, Foley. We cared about this one.
We had other chances too. Smith, by this point, was frightening. As Spencer intensely illustrated with fingers and pint glasses in the pub later, Gifton and Tommy would be a partnership with awesome potential, and Leeds couldn't handle a mere half of the equation. Foley, too, was involved, and brought an unbelievable block from Martyn with a point-blank drive shortly after his equaliser. Another reasonable chance came to Helguson, who drove high across the goal and narrowly wide. Helguson's ability and application makes him effetive in any attacking role, but you couldn't help but think that an opponent with pace could have exposed Danny Mills a little more.
Enter Paul no-balls Alcock. Whilst his performance this evening was far more even-handed in its incompetence than the criminal display at Valley Parade in January, it nonetheless verged on the comical at times. One such incident led to the second Leeds goal, which critically came just before the break. Having played an advantage to Leeds down their left, play continued to the point where Huckerby, having lost the ball to Ward, kicked out at him in petulance. At which point, United got the free kick. Obviously.
Duberry scored. Day should have come for it, maybe. A bit harsh perhaps. It didn't matter an awful lot.
Leeds were buoyed at half time by the knowledge that their Champions League (sic) rivals Liverpool were losing, and in all honesty we weren't in the game on the pitch, even if the battle off it was long since won. Huckerby's early goal sealed the game...a fine finish reminiscent of Henry's second against Arsenal ten days ago. Again, it didn't matter...except to Spencer, who elaborated in agitated tones about the foolishness of backing off Premiership players in the pub later.
For the rest of the game the defence bowed, but never broke again, even if the blocks (and one goal line clearance I think, although we were past paying much attention by now) were increasingly frequent and desperate. Smith, more fleetingly involved after the break, brought a second astonishing stop from Martyn. Mooney and Wooter were introduced in place of Helguson and Foley, to little effect beyond the predictable glee of the travelling Hornets. Woodgate, a half-time sub for Lucas Radebe, was particularly impressive both in defence, and in bringing the ball forward.
The game ended with Watford's colossal man-of-the-match Steve Palmer repeatedly peppering the Leeds goal. A couple of what must have amounted to half-a-dozen long-range efforts came close enough to provoke excitement, the now-vanquished Bakke cowering in his wake.
At the final whistle the support was lauding the approach of the Nationwide with triumphant chants of "If you're all going to Stockport..." and "Tranmere on a Friday night". The thirty-six thousand Leeds fans slipped away quietly.
On the way out of the stand (which, incidentally, would have been impossibly tight had it been anything but half-full), I shuffled past a well-coiffeured gentleman in a suit who clapped me on the shoulder, with an only slightly awkward "well done, we sung really well".
Okay, so I'm easily bought. But the well-coiffeured gentleman was our Vice-Chairman and Owner Haig Oundjian. Astonishing. Does Martin Edwards sit with the proles and join in the clapping at away games? I think not.
Farewell to the Premiership. You can't help feeling that, just for the moment, they might need us a little more than we need them.