ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK – Doomed Watford go for broke
With one foot already stuck in the relegation trapdoor, Watford were still kicking, but only just.
Bottom of the league when they sacked Glenn Roeder in mid-February, the anticipated revival under Graham Taylor, Luther Blissett and Kenny Jackett had not really materialised.
The triumvirate presided over just one win in their first 12 games in charge. The rot had set in too deep. This time there was to be no miracle. But that didn’t stop them throwing caution to the wind. If they were to slip out of the division, they were going to fight until their last breath.
Rock bottom, 11 points adrift of safety with six games to go, it was surely all over. But in the space of four days they beat Port Vale 5-2 and Reading 4-2 at home.
David Connolly and Devon White suddenly started scoring. Connolly got a hat-trick against Vale, White scored twice in each game. A 0-0 draw at Luton, who were also destined for the drop, slowed the charge a bit but Watford resumed with a gung-ho spirit that echoed happier days.
Although they were in the last-chance saloon and time had been called, Watford refused to give up. They thrashed Grimsby, racing into a 4-0 lead after 21 minutes.
Craig Ramage, exasperating and infuriating at times, but with a touch of genius few could match, scored in the first 60 seconds. Connolly, the lad from Bushey Rangers who didn’t endear himself to the Watford crowd by the manner of his departure a year later, scored the next two. Grimsby scored either side of half-time and the nerves were jangling, particularly because Watford were set up to play so offensively.
They had three at the back, with Darren Bazeley and Dominic Ludden encouraged to attack. Robert Page pulled out of the Wales squad in order to play, a decision which reportedly cost him a £5,000 appearance fee.
Connolly was first to complete his hat-trick and Ramage followed suit three minutes later. With two games to go, safety was now just four points away. It was still a tall order but it was not impossible. Scoring six meant they were level with Portsmouth on goals scored,
giving them even more encouragement.
As Blissett said, ‘Someone said to me as we came off that it was like the old days. There was wave after wave of attack and that is what Watford was about. If you keep going forward, keep creating chances, you will at least entertain the supporters. All we can do is attack and try to win the games and see if that is enough at the end of the season.’
Watford Miller, Bazeley, Ludden, Page, Palmer, Hessenthaler, Ramage, Porter, Mooney, Connolly, White
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Ramage 1, 21, 73, Connolly 13, 19, 70
Grimsby scorers Groves 34, Livingstone 49, Walker 82
Why was this match chosen? With three games to go, Watford were still in deep trouble but could still hope for a miraculous escape. They'd thrown caution to the win in recent weeks. Connolly scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Port Vale, then Reading were beaten 4-2. Only Luton slowed the charged, holding Watford 0-0. This was do-or-die and Watford went straight for it, scoring in the first minute, then getting 4-0 up. It was fantastic old-fashioned football and for 90 minutes took our minds off the relegation battle.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? Those final six weeks of the 1995-96 season were brilliant, even if the great escape did not come off in the end. This may not have been the most impressive of those victories but it was the most fun.