Football: Watford want for inspiration not perspiration

Watford 2 Sunderland 3
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VICARAGE ROAD stands next to Watford General Hospital. In medical terminology, the town's football club's Premiership survival, after enduring their fifth home defeat of the season, this time to Sunderland, remains a matter of grave concern.

If the Hertfordshire side do eventually end up in the relegation emergency room, that is fine by Graham Taylor, who ever since the club were promoted last May, has been aware that the bulletins on his team's health have erred on the side of terminal.

"We have to be careful we don't get carried away with the hype of it all and the greed of it all," said Taylor, Watford's answer to George Clooney, referring to the belief that in English football the Premier League is the be all and end of all.

"If you look at the traditions of this club, we're doing well. Of course we want to stay in the Premiership. But in the 118-year history of the club, this is only the seventh year ever that Watford have been in the highest division."

Despite the fact that Taylor's team have not won at home since 18 September, Watford's spirit remains bonny. That feeling was encapsulated by Richard Johnson, who with his bandaged head, the result of a first-half collision, remained on the pitch and took the penalty that pegged Sunderland back to 2-2.

That is half the problem, however. There is too much perspiration and not enough inspiration. What inspiration there was invariably came via the left boot of Xavier Gravelaine, who was sent off in the game's dying moments. It was the Frenchman who provided the superb pass for Michel Ngonge's fifth-minute goal which gave Watford the lead.

That Gravelaine's promptings went unrewarded was largely due to Sunderland's Kevin Phillips, who scored twice in the first half to take his seasonal goal tally to 15. The manner in which he dismembered the Watford defence was akin to a pathologist wielding a scalpel.

"I've improved totally," said Phillips, who had been suffering from flu all week. "The manager said that at the end of my first season at Sunderland I'd improved 100 per cent. I think he's right. I've grown up, grown stronger and become more clinical."

On Saturday Sunderland's rosy-cheeked look was not solely due to the little and large strike force of Phillips and Niall Quinn. Nicky Summerbee provided a steady stream of crosses, Gavin McCann supplied the midfield drive as well the winning goal, while Eric Roy, with touch and vision in the centre of midfield, was Sunderland's own Gallic genius.

As Peter Reid looks forward to European rather than Nationwide nights, the Sunderland manager maintained the club's aim was still to avoid relegation.

"The last time we were up we were missing four or five players and we didn't have the quality to stick in. Now we've got the quality to do a job," he said. "Just give me another nine points."

Goals: Ngonge (4) 1-0; Phillips (24) 1-1; Phillips (33) 1-2; Johnson (pen 49) 2-2; McCann (70) 2-3.

Watford (4-3-3): Chamberlain; Cox, Williams, Page, Robinson; Johnson, Palmer, Miller (Gibbs, 46); Wooter (Hyde, 79), Ngonge (Noel-Williams, 79), Gravelaine. Substitutes not used: Day (gk), Smith.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Williams, Craddock, P Butler, Gray, Summerbee, Roy (Ball, 76), McCann, Schwarz, Phillips (Reddy 89), Quinn. Substitutes not used: Marriott (gk), Rae, Thirlwell.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Watford Miller, Williams. Sunderland: Schwarz, Summerbee, Butler. Sending off: Watford Gravelaine.

Man of the match: Phillips.

Attendance: 21,590.