By Ian Grant
"Come on. Bloody COME ON!
No. No. No. NO. NOOOO! Jesus, get it AWAY! AWAYYY! Well in. Well in. GET IN THERE! AWAY! YES!
TAYLOR-MADE ARMY! TAYLOR-MADE ARMY! TAYLOR-MADE ARMY!"
I'm no longer using the dictaphone...but, if I had been, it would've recorded something like the above during most
of the second half. Which explains why my throat feels as if I've been gargling battery acid.
After three and a half months, victory was always going to be emotional. But this was ridiculous....
We've had some low points since beating Chelsea, to put it very mildly. None of them compare to the moment when Kevin
Davies slammed in the Southampton equaliser, wiping out our precious lead and threatening to send our hopes spiralling away
into a black hole. In that instant, the world fell apart and there was nothing to do but stare into the deepest abyss.
So the joy that greeted Xavier Gravelaine's winner was understandably unrestrained. To outsiders, it would've seemed
disproportionate; to us, it was the only possible reaction to a goal that might mean everything. It was an insane moment
of pure celebration.
Beyond that, there was the sheer determination and scary obstinacy that we've missed since we last had a lead to protect
in injury time. What we still lack in organisation was compensated for by the fiercest commitment...and more than a little
good fortune. We were heroic once more, and it's wonderful to be able to write that.
Back at kickoff, we knew that another defeat was more than we could afford. You don't stand a chance of Premiership survival
if you don't win these fixtures...and we also knew that the Southampton fans, impressive in number, would be thinking
the same. Yer actual six pointer, then.
The atmosphere briefly reflected that, Watford fans once again getting behind the team in these endless hours of need. Only
briefly, though, because we simply cannot prevent opponents from disrupting our attempts at rebuilding confidence. So, five
minutes in and neither Steve Palmer nor Paul Robinson stopped Davies from meeting Benali's cross. From little more than
six yards, he should've buried the chance...but his header was straight enough to allow Alec Chamberlain to make an
extraordinary save, shoving the ball over the bar with one hand. The Watford keeper made a more routine stop from Richards'
header from the consequent corner.
For the time being, it wasn't much of a game. Crucially, however, it was our turn to punctuate proceedings with match-winning
moments. After ten more uneventful minutes, there was a breakthrough. Neil Cox's deep cross from the right found David Perpetuini
challenging on the edge of the box. He did enough to win the header and the ball dropped a few yards in front of him. Jones
advanced and then inexplicably stopped, perhaps a pivotal point in the season as Perpetuini pounced and drilled a shot
through the keeper's legs to give Watford a priceless lead.
After our lack of defensive coordination had nearly conspired to throw away that lead - Robert Page marking two opponents at the
far post as a corner came in, Hughes heading a foot or so wide - the match reverted to its previous state. Again, though, we managed to raise
And how we raised ourselves. The second goal was sweeping and decisive, counter-attacking of the highest order. Despite
recent erratic kicking, Chamberlain started it by collecting a cross and driving a clearance towards the head of Michel Ngonge. The knockdown
was precisely into Micah Hyde's path, and his first-time pass into the space in front of Xavier Gravelaine was perfection. From the other
end, it appeared that the chance had gone as the striker cut back onto his right foot and defenders closed in...but the frustration
was only fleeting because the finish beat Jones and planted itself into the back of the net to bring a brilliant move
to an appropriate conclusion. Gravelaine, who looks like an undiscovered member of the Addams family, went as mad as the
rest of us.
Again, the luck was with us just seconds later. Suddenly midfield squabbles ended with Tessem sprinting through and
threatening to reduce the lead immediately. As Chamberlain came out, he poked the ball goalwards but the effort was
too strong and cleared the bar. We breathed again.
Curious, this winning thing. We've grown so used to sitting here and watching defeat after defeat that it didn't feel
quite right, like when you're waiting for a train and it actually arrives on time. As Le Tissier injured himself in the process
of shooting weakly at Chamberlain and was replaced by the footballing phenomenon that is Stuart Ripley, it was all going
a little too well. Still, it's an easy choice between winning and feeling nervous or losing and feeling miserable.
So far, so normal. But we'd hardly begun. The second half was football stripped of all its niceties, turned into the kind
of brutal, heartless spectacle that might've been served up at a Roman amphitheatre. It was emotionally and physically
It started well enough, the confidence just beginning to come back. Helped by a gigantic performance from Ngonge, ably assisted
by the lively Gravelaine, there were plenty of signs that the killer third wouldn't be too long in coming. Ngonge drove at Jones
from outside the box. And then, in characteristic and thrilling fashion, he charged at the Southampton defence to set up Hyde for
another through-ball for Gravelaine, Jones coming out to block and relieved to find Richard Johnson's lob attempt sailing into his
chest rather than over his head.
Gravelaine's curler from the edge of the area carried insufficient power to beat the Southampton keeper as we continued to
press in the opening fifteen minutes. Only Soltvedt's weak effort from a corner hinted at a comeback. For once, we were
Then, two hideous minutes later, we were in hell. Davies' burst past Page on the right allowed him to drive in a low cross -
it evaded Palmer's outstretched boot and reached Boa-Morte, who hammered the ball back into the corner of the net. In the Rookery,
we raised our heads from our hands in time to see Boa-Morte sprinting up the left with Cox in pursuit, crossing towards Hughes
at the near post and Davies collecting the loose ball to fire Southampton level.
Words can't describe the feeling. The ground fell away from underneath us, and the sensation was nearly enough to make me
physically sick. As the Southampton fans taunted us from the other end, all hope had gone and black depression had replaced
it. "You're not singing anymore!" was the chant from the Vic Road end...and they were right, because we could hardly speak
let alone sing.
Two substitutes lined up on the touchline, more in desperation than anything else. And then Cox's cross was only
half-cleared. And Gravelaine hit an awkward, bouncing shot from the edge of the box. And it rambled through a crowd. And Ngonge got out of the way.
And Jones saw it late. And still it went on. And Jones wasn't going to reach it. AND IT'S IN IT'S IN IT'S IN YES YES YES F***ING YES YES YES YOU'RE NOT SINGING ANYMORE YES YES YES! And utter
misery was transformed into utter joy in an instant, a Christmas miracle.
The rest was no less mental. The completely baffling substitution of the mighty Michel Ngonge, followed shortly after by
new hero Gravelaine, left us with much less muscle up front and much less hope of holding the ball up. While Dominic Foley
has unquestionably improved and Tommy Smith is tireless and eager, the combination of the two is just too lightweight
for a situation where clearances will inevitably be launched upfield with distance rather than direction. Two further goal
attempts, a half-volley over and a header at Jones both from Foley, couldn't disguise the ominous rumbling as the Southampton
artillery trundled forward for an assault on the Watford goal.
More often than not, it was difficult to make out what was happening at the other end. Which was probably a good thing. Davies
shot wide from distance, but that was just a warning. The final quarter of an hour was madness...slowly ascending into complete bedlam
by injury time, efforts raining in, bodies hurling themselves everywhere, the ball flying randomly about until it was finally
booted clear. Somehow we survived. Boa-Morte whacked in a low cross that provoked mayhem, possibly involving a Chamberlain save
but equally possibly not, before someone thumped it away. Chamberlain again appeared to save as either Davies' or Beattie's shot was
diverted into the side netting, and then the corner came in and Lundekvam's header was somehow prevented from crossing the line by
Hyde. Palmer headed clear from the goalline halfway through an eternity of injury time, during which many Watford fans will
have done irreparable damage to their vocal chords.
In a desperate, shambolic way, we were totally magnificent. We visibly grew as the clock counted down, turning back
into that absurdly heroic side that ought to have been beaten at St Andrews in May but simply refused to be. Quibbles about
quality of defending are to be left to one side on this occasion - after we'd reclaimed the lead, the sheer belligerence
of our rearguard deserved any amount of luck. This is what we want to see.
It's amazing how one result can lift the spirits, removing a weight from the shoulders of every Watford fan and allowing us
to stand tall once again. It is, of course, only one result. And it is, as the pessimists will remind us, only against
Southampton. But, while we're listing the "only"s, there's one more - we only have to finish above three other teams to
prove all the cynics wrong.