Category Archives: Football Matches

When Mike met Jacqui…

Whilst the opening Friday night of the season was memorable for a number of reasons – John Eustace scoring the first goal of the entire season, Danny Graham’s splendid brace and of course a Watford away win, it was also a big occcasion for the From the Rookery End podcast, on which I am a co-presenter.
We got our very first national plug!
It came on BBC Radio Five Live when Jacqui Oatley, providing commentary for the game, explained that she had listened to a “rather good podcast” before the game called, yep, you’ve guessed it, From the Rookery End! 
After the excitment had died down, I managed to track Jacqui down for a quick chat – mainly to congratulate her on her great taste in podcasts, but also to ask about her views on Watford, the World Cup and life as a Commentator.

I spoke to Jacqui as she was preparing for her trip to cover Wolves V Stoke for the BBC last weekend…

Mike: Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the podcast and subsequently securing your place in the ‘From the Rookery End’ hall of fame by mentioning it in your commentary last weekend.
 
Are podcasts and blogs something you and your fellow broadcasters and journalists are using more of as part of your work?
 
Jacqui: Different people prepare for games in different ways so I can only speak for myself. But, if you are doing live commentary your prep would be more in-depth and take longer than if you are providing updates.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, often in the car. They provide a really well informed view of what is going on at a particular club. The people responsible for them generally go to a lot of games, so are able to provide a real insight as to what the feeling is and what expectations are. They can be really helpful.

You commentated on Watford’s away win at Norwich on the opening day. Were you surprised by the result?

I was. Paul Lambert has brought in some good new players after winning the league last season and with a big Carrow Road crowd guaranteed, it looked a tough start for Watford. Malky has lost a number of experienced players, the financial situation is well documented and it looks like a young squad.

What impressed me was how confident and organised Watford looked from the first whistle. I had picked up a sense of optimism amongst Watford fans and had heard that Danny Graham and Marvin Sordell had been linking up well in training and pre-season, but I didn’t think they would perform together so well so quickly.

What do your colleagues in the media think of Watford?
 
I don’t think there is necessarily a common view about Watford these days. We all think of the iconic figures from years gone by like Luther Blissett, John Barnes, Elton John and Graham Taylor. But financial problems have been high on the agenda since Luca Vialli came in and spent a lot of money, so they’ve had a tough time of it since then.
 
Whilst at the World Cup, you worked a lot with Graham Taylor. Graham is rightly idolised by all Watford fans – is he as nice a guy as we all hope and think he is?
 
Graham is a genuinely lovely bloke and one of my favourite people to work with. We spent more time together in South Africa than expected after long journeys between grounds, but he really is a lovely chap.

We had some good fun – a four hour round trip to Rustenburg turned into an eight hour one as we got stuck in traffic and suffered from dodgy directions.

What really came through is his passion for Watford. He really cares about the club and is hugely loyal. It was clear how responsible he feels for the club now he is Chairman.

Watford are really lucky to have a man that cares so much, as it would have been easy for him to say no. He has his media responsibilities and also a family he wants to spend time with. He remains loyal to Watford though and really wants to do his bit. He also has a lot of time for Malky Mackay.

That’s great to hear. Talking about the World Cup – what was the highlight for you?
 
My personal highlight was the fact that South Africa hosted the tournament so well. Whilst the football wasn’t always amazing, the tournament itself went really well and a lot of the pre-World Cup fears about safety weren’t realised.

My Mum is from South Africa and I know she was pleased to see it go to plan. I remember her telling me that she never thought she’d see the day that South Africa plays host to such a massive event, so it was great to see it go so well.

It was also nice to catch up with colleagues. During the season you spend a lot of time travelling to and working at different games on your own, so it was good to catch up with some of them during the tournament. I spent time talking football with the likes of Graham Taylor, Danny Mills, Pat Nevin, David Pleat and Martin Keown – all good people with some cracking stories!

Apart from the obvious, were there any players that stood out for you at the tournament?
 
Diego Perez of Uruguay (and Monaco). He’s a tough, ball winning midfielder and I think he’d be brilliant in the Premier League.
 
We can’t talk about the World Cup without mentioning England’s woeful tournament. Can you sum up what went wrong in a sentence?
 
In a sentence? Are you joking?! I think the manager has to take his fair share of responsibility. He has proved himself to be a great club manager, but tournament football is different to anything he’d experienced before.
Having spoken to someone who knows some of the players, it seems Capello’s non-communicative, stand-offish manner over a period of weeks had an adverse effect on the squad. Plus the fact that they didn’t know the line-up until a couple of hours before kick-off – that really frustrated the players as they couldn’t practice team shape or psych themselves up.
He’s been a very successful manager, but I think this was a steep learning curve for him.

In terms of sticking with him, from a financial point of view the FA didn’t have much choice, given the removal of that clause which would have allowed them to terminate the contract without compensation. They couldn’t afford to pay him off as well as pay for a new manager. Roy Hodgson was on his way to Liverpool, which meant they’d just missed out on the only ideal replacement (in my view). Hopefully Capello learnt a great deal from the South Africa experience.

When it comes to the team itself, I don’t think you can just ditch all the experienced players on the back of a poor tournament. The new breed of youngsters do need to come in, but there needs to be a mix of youth and experience. Players like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand continue to suffer with injuries and may not be as mobile as they were, so looking for their successors is sensible, but we saw again this week what Steven Gerrard is capable of – he was on fire.

Back home, this morning there are reports that Man City are prepared to pay Zlatan Ibrahomovic £500,000 a week. Are those that work in the game as shocked at these sort of figures as the fans?
 
Yes. I think the one that we all raised eyebrows at was Yaya Toure. His wages are huge for someone who wasn’t a key figure in the Barcelona team.
There is a lot of money in the game, but the worry is the average fan being priced out of the game. I know that Watford fans were charged £31 for a ticket to the Norwich game. This is a game that is on the TV and on a Friday night.
Personally I think clubs would be better off charging less for tickets and getting full stadiums.

Being at a game is completely different to watching on TV. It’s an experience that you simply can’t get from sitting at home. On top of that, the clubs would generate extra income from fans buying food and merchandise.

The danger is we will breed a generation of TV supporters and that isn’t healthy for the future of the game.

Are you able to switch off from football when you aren’t working?
 
I’ve always been bad at switching off because football’s my passion as well as my job. But I’ve got better at it in the last year or so. My boyfriend and I have plenty of other things to talk about and I love seeing my girlie friends too – we don’t debate how many holding midfielders Manchester City have or how far Connor Wickham can go in his career. It’s great to switch off with them.
I must confess I like a bit of “Loose Women” on ITV to break up a prep day and am currently really enjoying watching “Undercover Boss” on Channel 4, although I always seem to end up blubbing at the end!
 
Are you able to enjoy the games you commentate on?

It’s very different to watching a game as a fan. When you’re reporting, you have to concentrate all the time in case the next moment is one of the most significant in the game. Who put the cross in, how far the shot was from goal, all that sort of stuff. I enjoy commentating more than reporting as you can really get involved in the game, but it is great to go to games as a supporter too – that’s really important to me.

Ahead of our chat I saw Roy Keane on TV and I’ll be honest, the thought of interviewing him strikes fear into my heart. What’s the hardest interview you’ve ever done?

Ha, I actually like Roy Keane. He’s good to interview. The toughest experience I had was as a pitchside reporter at the 2006 FA Cup Final. I was covering West Ham and was seconds away from getting to interview the players as FA Cup winners. As we all know, Steven Gerrard scored that late equaliser and Liverpool went on to win. Instead of interviewing jubilant players I had to go onto the pitch as soon as the final whistle blew and try to talk to players who had gone agonisingly close to being Cup winners.

It was a surreal experience, almost like walking into a computer game. Players everywhere were crying and clearly in no fit state to give an interview. Alan Pardew was distraught and made it clear he couldn’t talk and in the end it was just Teddy Sheringham who was willing and able to answer a few questions. I was grateful to him for that as he managed to give me a good interview in difficult circumstances.

Finally, have you ever made a memorable on air gaffe?

I’m touching wood now, but I can’t think of a major one. Or maybe there are just too many to stand out in my mind! Here’s a Watford-related story for you though…

If you’re a commentator who’s only reporting on a game for 5 Live, you still commentate off-air when it looks like there’s a chance of a goal (they’re recording the whole time back in the studio). That way the clip can be played later on 606 or another show to illustrate the game or goal.

I was covering Spurs v Watford in the Premier League when Spurs goalkeeper Paul Robinson lined up to take a free kick by his own penalty area. Seeing as you’re a Watford fan, I don’t need to remind you what happened next. I didn’t feel any need to commentate. What could possibly happen from a free kick so far back?!
Anyway, the ball bounced once in front of Ben Foster then sailed over his head and into the net. I was gutted that I had missed it. I wasn’t to know of course, but it would have been a memorable goal to commentate on.

Thanks so much for reminding us! Anyway, Jacqui that’s it, thanks for being such a star and enjoy the season.

***
 
You can download the ‘From the Rookery End podcast via iTunes or by listening directly at www.fromtherookeryend.com
 
You can follow Jacqui Oatley on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jacquioatley
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St Albans City 0 Watford 2 – In Pictures

Watford triumphed 2-0 over near Neighbours St Albans City at Clarence Park. For those of you that couldn’t make it, here’s what it looked like…

You can click on the picture to see a bigger version.

Enjoy!

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The law of being average

It’s taken me the best part of a week, but I’ve finally worked out how I feel about England’s abrupt and let’s face it, humiliating, exit from the World Cup.

Those who watched the game with me on Sunday will have been treated to the mildly comical yet largely disturbing spectacle of me furiously striking the TV with my flip-flop whilst turning the air blue with my rather choice opinions on the horror show that was unfolding before our eyes. For these poor souls (and indeed their neighbours) it may be a surprise to learn that my over riding emotion isn’t anger.

Regular readers of this blog and those who I sit with at Watford will be aware that I’m not always the most optimistic of souls. I’m still nervy when we’re 3-0 up with 30 seconds to go for heavens sake. Therefore, if asked to bet, I’m sure my fellow Hornets would wager that I predicted an England defeat, allowing me a well deserved and self congratulatory pat on the back. But no, I don’t feel vindicated or smug either.

I’ll tell you how I feel.

Indifferent.

I had an inkling that something wasn’t right in my relationship with the England team long before the tournament began.

When the team captain Rio Ferdinand returned home injured in early June, my initial thought wasn’t of the negative impact it would have on the team. It was a sense of relief. Relief that if England did win the World Cup, that plank wouldn’t be the man to receive the trophy on our nation’s behalf. My mind then started to wander. I pictured the players going up one by one to receive their medals and take their turn with the trophy. I imagined John Terry holding aloft the biggest prize in world football. It left me cold. Then, and I couldn’t help it, my minds eye treated me to the sight of Ashley Cole, grinning like a maniac, part of only the second ever England team to win a trophy. I was almost sick. Twice.

I felt slightly less inclined to self harm as I imagined the rest of the team enjoying their moment of glory, but the damage was done. It was now clear to me. There can now be no mistaking it -I just don’t like the England team.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some honest, decent chaps among them. David James is an ex-Watford player so by default he’s a top man. James Milner seems like an alright bloke and Peter Crouch comes across as genuine and very funny. I like him. As a squad though, they stink. Unapproachable, cocky, ill educated, brash and worst of all – pretty bloody average at football.

This generation of footballers is, through no real fault of their own, the furthest removed from both fans and reality. Their astronomic salaries and superstar status mean that through necessity they are to some degree forced to retreat into a world where nothing is too expensive and everything is done for you. I understand this and don’t have a problem with it. If I earned 150k a week I’d buy a big house and would hire someone to operate the Sky remote for me too. Similarly, if I was famous, I’d try and keep myself to myself – signing autographs is fine, but not 24 hours a day.

However.

Having been afforded this status you occasionally have to back it up with action. Prove that you’re worth it. Or at least try.

Off the field this has already proved too much for a number of our ‘heroes’. Rio Ferdinand felt he didn’t have to do a drugs test because “He had a lot on”. John Terry felt it was appropriate to hire out his private Wembley box – a privilege bestowed on each England captain – for personal gain. Rooney badmouthing England fans who have saved for four years only to be treated to one of the worst performances in living memory. Ashley Cole, well Ashley Cole clearly won’t stop until everyone in the whole world can’t stand the site of him. The list goes on. No matter though. We’re football fans. We’ll excuse most things. As long as you give us something to shout about on the pitch.

In all fairness, most weeks, our club players rarely let us down. The England players play well for their star-studded clubs, whilst we lower league fans usually go home safe in the knowledge that our team may be crap, but at least they try. Why then do none of us get any satisfaction from watching England?

It’s simple. The England football team is average. Our players are supported at club level by far superior team mates, allowing them to believe their own hype and inflated worth. Some of them are good, the majority are average. No better no worse. We usually qualify for the Quarter Finals and rarely look likely to go any further. So it has been, and so it shall ever be. And that’s fine. We turn up, we do our bit, we work hard, we bluster and we battle until we are inevitably undone by better players or a penalty shootout. We go out, as expected way before the Final but with heads held high. As English football fans we’re fine with that.

Or at least we were. You see, I can handle supporting an average team. Crikey, as a Watford fan I can handle supporting a less than average team. What is harder, much harder, is supporting an average team for which you have no affinity. I just have no relationship with this England team. As players they don’t mean anything to me. Some of the reasons for this aren’t the players fault. Many of them are.

So it’s come to this. During this World Cup I watched England. I didn’t support them. Of course I wanted them to win. I cheered when they scored, I groaned when they conceded – as a sports fan it’s in my DNA, it’s hardwired into me. I didn’t invest any emotional energy in them though. And you know what? I don’t think any of them did either.

So, what happens now? By way of an apology, I’d love all those England fans that travelled to South Africa to get free tickets to the next England game – a home friendly with Hungary. The perfect opportunity for those who invested not only emotionally but financially to have their say. The sound of 80,000 heartfelt boos and catcalls may be a wake up call for some, an insight as to what real people actually think of them and their antics.

I doubt it though. After all, what do we matter? As Gary Neville so tellingly once said; “The fans are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all”.

Well. We will see Gary. We will see.

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The crying game

I don’t mind admitting it. I’m so excited that I reckon I could be sick or pass out at any given moment. I refer of course to the beginning of the final series of Big Brother, but it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that the World Cup starts this week too.

It isn’t actually Davina and her latest array of fame hungry misfits, but the start of the football that has got me and the rest of the world so giddy with glee. Fans across the world are eagerly plotting routes to the Final for their various teams and taking part in endless speculation about starting elevens and gossiping about possible formations. I’m even enjoying the fact that every single advertisement is seemingly linked to the World Cup.

And all this despite the depressing knowledge that it will inevitability all end in tears.

A combination of pressure from us back home in blighty and the limitations of the average assortment of players that will be wearing the three lions in South Africa mean that (in my opinion) the chances of England getting anywhere near the Final are slim. I still can’t wait though. I’ve still got butterflies. I’m still toying with the idea of taking the afternoon off to watch South Africa take on Mexico.

Anyway, in thinking about the England games and how much I’m looking forward to them, I started to recall some of the big games that Watford have been involved in. The Cup matches, the Play-Offs, the relegation six pointers. Now, those of you who have read what I write before will know that I think we’re pretty lucky to be Watford fans. We’ve had some good times and thinking back to when it has really counted, unlike England, Watford have rarely let us down.

I wasn’t old enough to go to the ’84 Cup Final or any of the fun and games leading up to that, so my first real taste of big match action was the 1987 FA Cup Semi Final with Spurs.

The game was at Villa Park and my Grandparents lived not far away in Stratford upon Avon, so we travelled up to stay with them the day before. I was so excited. The papers were full of build up, FA Cup Semi Final weekend was big news in those days and I proudly devoured each word. The car was bedecked in as much Watford paraphernalia as I could lay my hands on – I wanted everyone to know where I was going.

The morning of the game dawned and I walked with Dad to the local shop to get a paper. The big story surrounding the game was who would play in goal for the Hornets. With the awesome Tony Coton unavailable, Steve Sherwood was a more than able deputy, but a finger injury sustained in training meant he was unlikely to feature. Rumours began to circulate about who would replace him and a story about a wine waiter just wouldn’t go away…

Inside the ground, Villa Park was a joy to behold. The sea of yellow was, for a boy of 10, a truly spectacular and awe inspiring sight. The noise was equally memorable, singing coming from every part of the ground and the atmosphere becoming increasingly fervored  as kick off drew closer.

As a youngster I don’t think I fully comprehended the importance of Gary Plumley appearing in goal. I knew I had never heard of him before and certainly hadn’t seen him in action, but I kind of figured if he was going to play for my club in one of the biggest games in its history, he must be OK.

Even at my tender years, I was insightful enough to know however, that when the first goal went in, it was pretty much all over.

I couldn’t believe it. All the build up. All the talking about it with my 8 year old brother when we should have been in bed. All the decorating of the car. The getting my replica kit ready the night before. After all that, we were going to lose. I cried.

Looking back at that game, it remains one of my favourite and most vivid memories. I can still remember the feeling before the game, the unadulterated excitement and anticipation. The pride in my team. The sheer delight that I was actually going to an FA Cup Semi Final. I also remember the despair. I knew immediately after the first goal that I was going to cry. I didn’t want to, but quickly realised I couldn’t help it. The tears flowed. From a high to a low with one kick of a football.

There have been lows since of course. Being relegated is never fun, and it’s happened four times in my Watford supporting career. We could see those coming a long way off though, we had time to get ready and prepare ourselves. When it’s been a one shot deal though, when we’ve one game in which to do the business, a game with a big build up, a game that we’ve been excited about they have more often than not delivered.

When it really, really matters, we are rarely left disappointed.

Just one more reason to be grateful for being a Hornet.

Come on You Horns!

Oh, and for pity’s sake – Come on England!

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Who cares wins…

At the risk of opening by stating the obvious, it isn’t always easy supporting Watford. It isn’t even always fun. Having said that, I count myself lucky to be a Hornet.

We’ve had a brief stint in the limelight, we’ve been in Europe and played at Wembley. Not many fans of clubs our size can say that. What pleases me most of all  is that when all is said and done, we are far, far removed from the Sky Sports generation and all the ghastly hype that goes with it.

Alright, so we’ve had a crack at the big time a couple of times and continue to sail pretty close to the financial wind as a result. However, we have a three sided ground and when asked for their favourite player, most Watford fans would answer Lloyd Doyley. Watching Champions League football from a fifty quid seat we are not.

Occasionally I see Watford fans complaining that we don’t get enough coverage across the media. This has been an oft repeated complaint, and during our pomp in the 80’s, it was made with some justification. Now though, why should we have any coverage apart from that afforded by the Watford Observer and seeing goals on the TV? We are an average Championship club, and quite frankly that’ll do for me.

At our level, there is still just the faintest hint of what football should be like. There are still brick outhouse defenders, awful refereeing decisions and quaint grounds to visit. You can get a ticket. If you were so minded, you could probably get a couple of your heroes to sign your match programme. Who knows, you might beat a bigger opponent in a Cup competition (although judging by the celebrations when Priskin netted against Chelsea last year, simply scoring could be enough…) It’s all pretty straightforward really.

Tuesday night was a prime example. Anyone other than Sheffield United or Watford fans would probably have to have been paid to watch the game. Had they seen the first 20 minutes, they would probably have to be paid again to stop them from leaving. It wasn’t pretty, and Watford’s three goals came as a result of calamitous defending as oppose to breathtaking attacking. It wasn’t a great game or a great spectacle, but then again it didn’t need to be. We don’t, or at least shouldn’t suffer from the illusions of grandeur that seem to inflict much of the footballing world. We don’t need to qualify for the Europa Cup and to then pretend that playing in Europe justifies the ludicrous sums of money paid out in fees and wages. We don’t need to play slick one touch football to keep those football tourists paying £1,000 for a season ticket happy. We don’t have to put up with endless speculation about our mollycoddled, overpaid, undereducated players and their performances on and off the pitch. If our team turns up and wins, that’ll do for us. In fact scrub that. If our team turns up, plays well and loses that’ll usually do too.

I rarely watch Match of the Day any more. I find the whole thing so tiring. The endless analysis. The banal comments from players, managers and pundits. The inevitable highlighting of an awful challenge, constant diving and woeful refereeing decisions. I just don’t need it in my life, no matter what Sky Sports and Andy Gray tells me. I still love football, and I thoroughly enjoyed Manchester Uniteds’ demolition of Arsenal on Sunday. My view isn’t so jaundiced that I can’t recognise and enjoy brilliant football. I just don’t need to be endlessly told it’s brilliant over a Kasabian soundtrack.

Watford V Sheffield United didn’t matter to the wider footballing world. Watford don’t really matter to the wider footballing world and the coverage we get reflects that. But that suits me just fine. Why? Because Watford matter to me.

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After the Lloyd Mayor’s Show…

It’s so often the case. After memorable highs, come instantly forgettable lows.

Producing a performance to follow the extraordinary scenes we witnessed at Vicarage Road on Monday night was always going to be difficult, but I suppose it is a measure of how far this squad of borrowed players, youngsters and journeymen have come under Malky Mackay that Saturday’s home defeat to Derby was as disappointing as it was unexpected.

It was a cold day, and the sticky looking pitch was never going to be conducive to free flowing football. Add into the mix Derby’s hard working, tough tackling game plan and an early Danny Graham miss from distance, and it quickly became apparent that it was going to be one of those days.

Credit to Derby. From the first whistle to the last they didn’t let Watford have any time on the ball, and the previously effective Cleverley and Cowie were shut down time and time again. Derby battled, tackled, huffed and puffed, and whilst they didn’t look like scoring, neither did we.

As the game wore on it occurred to me that Derby were doing to us what we have done to so many other teams in recent years, and why so many opposition fans had derided us and our tactics. Effective, most certainly. Enjoyable to watch? Even an episode of X-Factor would have provided a tempting alternative.

Watford didn’t play well, but we shouldn’t be too downhearted. This was a well organised Derby team, desperate for their first away win. As much as it pains me to say it, Robbie Savage was a picture of experience and know how – marshalling the game from seemingly the same spot on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes. Additional footballing know how and niggle came from Lee Hendrie and the much travelled Paul Dickov. Compare the careers of these guys to those of Lee Hodson, Liam Henderson and Ross Jenkins, and you get an idea of what we are up against in this division.

More often than not, our youngsters have proved up to the task this season, and it is for that reason that I doubt many Hornets fans will have trouble moving on quickly after Saturday’s 0-1 defeat. This Watford team has already given us much to cheer this season, and despite the increasing spectre of financial meltdown off the pitch, on the pitch has in the main (unexpectedly) been a joy to behold.

Speaking of which, I can’t close without mentioning last Monday night. 7 December 2009, or “Lloyd-D Day” as it shall now be known.

Since the news emerged that Adrian Mariappa and Lloyd Doyley had been locked in fierce competition to be the first to break their goalscoring duck, the attention of many Watford fans turned from the duos defensive performances to their chances of scoring at the other end. Aidy Mariappa comfortably beat Lloyd in their personal duel, but since then Watford fans have been collectively willing Doyley on, and this season the performances of the team had allowed him to creep ever closer to his first ever goal.

Well, against QPR, it finally arrived. Described by the Sky commentary as looking as if he had been “fired from a cannon” Lloyd Doyley met Don Cowie’s cross with a thundering header and for a couple of seconds everything stopped. The massed ranks of Hornets fans exchanged looks and cautious smiles, seeking confirmation that what they had just seen was real and not some bizarre optical illusion.

Realisation dawned and then – bedlam.

A celebration of joy, of togetherness. A celebration that will live long in the memory of all that were there, and one that reinforces the good feeling that is back at Vicarage Road. A feeling that we are all in this together and are once again pulling in the same direction. There was genuine affection towards “Lloydhino” from fans and players alike, and the noisy, joyous, quite frankly bonkers celebrations felt like a truly shared moment.

Such moments are infrequent in modern day football, and this was an occasion to savour. I am relieved, proud and delighted to be able to leave you with the refrain…”I was there when Doyley scored!”

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We won some, we lost some…

Blimey. So, as the season continues to rumble along, I’m please to say that it is doing so in quite an enjoyable fashion. Since I last populated these pages, I have to concede that Watford have continued to, well, concede, but despite maulings at the hands of Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion, we’re more than holding our own.

An away win against Middlesbrough, a last gasp point at Ipswich, the dismantling of Sheffield Wednesday and the latest goal-scoring return of Heidar against Preston are four excellent examples of why supporting Watford this season is proving to be jolly good fun.

The away win at the Riverside was as unexpected as it was welcome. I can’t have been the only one who kept an eye on proceedings in the North East with slight trepidation, following as it did the home horror show against Cardiff, but Malky’s young charges did us proud, and helped in no small part by heroics from Scott Loach and a determined performance from ex ‘Boro employee Danny Graham, we returned home with our first ever win at the Riverside.

Another tricky away trip followed on the Tuesday, when we faced Roy Keane’s increasingly desperate Ipswich Town. It looked as if we were going to provide Keane with his first win as boss until deep into stoppage time when, of all people, Nathan Ellington smashed home an equaliser. I don’t know about you, but felt this was a big moment for us. We had won unexpectedly at Middlesbrough and had now rescued a game that looked beyond us away from home. It’s moments like these when you realise you have a team that is battling. Working. Trying. As a football fan, I don’t think I can ask for more than that.

There is always a slight worry when you nick late goals that you may have somehow used up your quota of luck. Against Sheffield Wednesday on a memorable Friday (thanks Sky!) night, we needn’t have worried. Thanks to inspired performances by Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley, Watford played some of the best football seen at Vicarage Road for some time, and won the game at a canter, 4-1. For heavens sake, Lloyd Doyley almost scored.

Whilst Lansbury and Cleverley understandably grabbed the headlines, our own players also shone, with Mariappa getting on the scoresheet and recent recruits Don Cowie and Danny Graham working their socks off for the cause. This was a good, and highly entertaining all round performance, with the only blemish the dreadful defending for the Owls consolation just before half time.

Watford played some blinding football, zipping the ball around crisply and with purpose, and four goals is the least they deserved. Those of us in the ground and watching live on Sky Sports were richly entertained and it was a fantastic feeling to hear the plaudits that Watford, so often derided as long ball merchants, rightly received. A great performance, one to really savour.

After the Lord Mayors show. I think that’s the best way of describing what happened just a week later at the Hawthorns. Whilst I hope people weren’t letting themselves get too carried away after our fantastic Friday against Wednesday, this result soon put our current place in the grand scheme of things firmly into perspective. I wasn’t at the game, so can’t comment with any great authority, but by all accounts it wasn’t quite as bad as the scoreline suggests, but in my experience very few teams deserve much out of a game that they lose 0-5. We created chances which is encouraging to hear, and perhaps if Danny Graham had converted his chance at 0-2 the day would have panned out differently. He didn’t, and it didn’t.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Danny Graham, I voiced my concern after he missed that wealth of chances against Leicester. Strikers are a funny breed, and they more than any other type of player rely on confidence. His extraordinary barren spell at Carlisle last year came after he had started the season well, and it was with this in mind that I was slightly concerned to see him waste 3 or 4 gilt edged chances. He hasn’t of course scored since.

Bizarrely though, I’m less worried now than I was after that Leicester game. His work rate is phenomenal, and he is clearly enjoying his football. His closing down of goalkeepers and chasing of seemingly lost causes is a joy to behold and he has played a huge part in all that has been impressive about Watford this season. The goals will come again, I’m convinced of that.

So. After a heavy defeat it was going to be interesting to see how we bounced back at home to what I assumed would be a decent PNE side. Our team is full of youngsters and inexperience – a good reaction was important for our season, but did we have any right to expect it? Well, after the first 5 minutes or so, it didn’t look like we were going to get it. Both Watford and Preston seemed incapable of completing a pass, with the ball disappearing out of play and players falling flat on their backsides at an alarming rate. Not a good start to the match, and indeed for a while there I was transported back to the meaningless drudgery of our games in the mid 90’s…However Heidar was back in the starting XI and as we all know by now, things are never dull for long when he is involved. 12 minutes in and the puffin eater directed a trademark header into the back of the net, and hey presto, we were up and running.

If Heidar’s goal was a thing of welcome familiarity, the 2nd was a thing of absolute beauty. Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley combined to devastating effect, Lansbury easing away from several hapless PNE defenders before sliding a ball through to his fellow loanee who slid the ball home with precision and breathtaking ease. It’s stating the obvious to say that these boys are a cut above the rest of the squad, but they are clearly enjoying being part of this team, and our permanent players are clearly benefiting from their presence. Chants of “Sign him up” as Cleverley left the field are clearly wildly and unreasonably optimistic, but we should definitely make the most of him and Lansbury whilst we have them. We’ll be seeing more of them, no doubt, but it is likely to be in the Champions League, not the Championship.

The game ended 2-0 and we had our bounceback. We had our proof that this team of ours isn’t going to collapse and give in at the slightest hiccup, even if that hiccup did come in the form of a 5-0 thumping. They picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and made sure that this time it was they that would dish out the beating.

Tim Lovejoy famously coined the phrase bouncebackability. As Watford fans we’ve had to have it in abundance. It’s nice to see the team now have it too.

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