The distance between where we want to be – and Sunderland spent most of the game sending us “WISH YOU WERE HERE” postcards – and where we actually are is huge and getting no smaller. There’s plenty of fight still, the need to overcome our limitations growing more urgent by the week. We’ve not going to give up, that much is clear. And, with things remaining tight as others continue to struggle just as badly, we’ve no reason to give up.
This game was played just after England had narrowly defeated Scotland 2-1 on aggregate in a Euro 2000 qualifying playoff. After winning 2-0 at Hampden, England then lost 1-0 at home to the Scots in a poor performance in which Alan Shearer did very little. The predominant chant heard at the Vic during this game was ‘Where were you on Wednesday night’ a reference to the Newcastle striker’s performance at Wembley. Both Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor complained about the chant after the game, although later GT admitted that, having talked it over with his family, he was wrong to criticise the fans.
Leaving aside the ins and outs of what we want (and don’t want) our football club to be, Saturday’s match exposed the reality of our fight against relegation. Newcastle are rubbish, as are all of the teams knocking around in the bottom six or seven. Extremely expensive rubbish, like if you could go into Harrods and buy beautifully gift-wrapped boxes of rotting potato peelings, but rubbish nonetheless. There are many who expect them to climb effortlessly away from relegation peril almost as a matter of course. Not on this evidence.
It’s simple, regardless of whether you’re playing in the local pub league or the Premiership. If you score first, you light the opposition’s fuse wire…you then hold onto your possession, keep it tight and frustrate them even more. You protect your advantage with fearsome grit and determination and more importantly you keep that initial confidence and belief in yourself and your team mates. What you don’t do is panic and just throw it away.
Bobby Robson’s on our case, and the press is bemused. The Watford fans, offspring of The Family Club, gave Alan Shearer (our national hero!) a less than adoring welcome. Is it any surprise, when you saw what a miserable git he was? Petulent, never a smile. Every fair challenge bitterly contested before the referee. And, except for the odd moment (and there were only two) when he showed his true thoroughbred’s class, his own performance made it all too understandable why the fans were asking him where he was on Wednesday night.
BSAD: If you want a battleplan for the rest of the season, this was it. We rolled our sleeves up and got on with it, concentrating only on the here and now. We were poor for periods and we made some costly mistakes…but, far more importantly, we were never distracted, never frustrated and never downhearted. That approach, if it can be sustained, is what will keep us up. We’ve got nothing to lose this season, so let others worry about relegation.
Just before half-time Gifton arrived, for a limping Wooter. After such a long time out it was a worry whether he’d be as good; but he is on this evidence – holding the ball up, beating players through sheer strength, still able to see and deliver the odd crucial pass. We cheered his every move like we used to do to Phillips.