Not for the first time this season, there was confusion among the five hundred or so Watford faithful when the line-up was announced. It appeared that Gifton would be playing up-front on his own with support from Jermaine Pennant. However it quickly became clear that no-one had communicated this to Gifton as he spent most of the time hovering on the half-way line down the left hand side. It was usually David Noble who was Watford’s furthest player upfield.
As early as the quarter hour mark we were forced into a reshuffle as Cox limped off having earlier received treatment. Doyley dropped into his more accustomed central role, with Heidar continuing his tour of the outfield positions as a right wing-back.
At this point, anyway, Luca brought Helguson on, and I assume we went to four in defence, with Glass dropping back and Helguson, inexplicably, playing wide right. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and there’s no denying Pennant’s usefulness up front, but isn’t he supposed to be a right winger and Helguson a striker?
A difficult pitch and a difficult opponent, full of tricks and movement, but we played as well as we could, which is all you can ask for. Although City were better than us, technically, our battling performance could have earned a draw. Helguson’s unfortunate own goal gave City a win they barely deserved: that’s what happens when you ask strikers to play a defensive role.
Gianluca Vialli’s men were torn apart as Millwall claimed all three points in clinical fashion. Watford hit the post through Tommy Smith after 23 minutes but otherwise were rarely a threat until Heidar Helguson scored a consolation nine minutes from time.
Gianluca Vialli said in his match programme notes that he didn’t want “to take stock” until the end of the season. However, only 45 minutes into Watford’s first 2002 commitment the Vicarage Road fans were voicing their concern.
One of these teams is indeed well-equipped for a Division One charge (if not, you feel, for Premiership survival). The other has its head in the clouds. One was hungry, sharp, well-organised, strongly bonded…and, crucially, aware of its limitations and prepared to work hard to overcome them. Not so very different from the Watford side that passed swiftly through the First Division under Graham Taylor, in fact. The other was lazy, sloppy, weak, fragmented, and entirely deserving of a stuffing.