Gray day for Blades, black for woeful Watford
Watford 0 Sheffield United 2
Sunday 14 March 2004
Sheffield United were jaded, Watford were awful and the home fans, already concerned at their team's declining situation, were poorly rewarded for their dedication. This was a match that made it all too easy to believe that standards in the First Division, from almost at the top to near the bottom, are commonly poor. United will not be concerned about that, since this victory significantly added to their promotion hopes.
Although United set out 15 points ahead of Watford, and well placed for a play-off place, this was not an easy game to call. The Blades had put enormous effort into the previous weekend's FA Cup quarter-final game against Sunderland before losing by one goal. Bouncing back is easier said than done. In the meantime, Watford had been beaten by Stoke and Bradford and clearly needed to do something about their dangerous position, and fast.
A spate of injuries had further burdened them, particularly in defence. Not that they were unduly tested in that department in the early stages, when United found themselves staring in relieved disbelief when first a Neal Ardley free header stole past a post, then Heidar Helguson dissected their midfield to allow Scott Fitzgerald clear passage to goal, only to slide his shot woefully wide.
United are not averse to allowing the home side to have plenty of early possession in the hope of frustrating them, then catching them too committed upfield. Here, Watford had by far the greater first-half control and were a shade unfortunate that a cannon of a long shot from new signing from Lincoln, Paul Mayo, beat everyone but Paddy Kenny.
Having covered all of United's breakaways moderately well, Watford must have been livid to go a goal down two minutes before half-time, when a corner from Dries Boussatta ended with the ball bouncing knee-high for Jack Lester, who nevertheless got over it to drive his shot past Lenny Pidgeley from a yard.
Watford made strenuous efforts to recover but their organisation was, frankly, dreadful. Not that United were much better, and they may well have lost their advantage when Watford's substitute, Lee Cook, launched a long cross into the penalty area and United's former Watford defender Robert Page headed on to his own crossbar.
United played out the match relieved they could perform so haphazardly yet pick up valuable points. Their second goal, in time added, was barely merited but Izale McLeod pushed the ball across Watford's goalmouth and Andy Gray slipped it in.
Overall, it was hard to disagree with Watford's manager, Ray Lewington, who said later: "I don't think we are any worse than a lot of others near the bottom.'' Or, come to that, a lot much higher up.
Watford 0 Sheffield United 2
Lester 42, Gray 90
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 13,861
Latest in Sport
Gareth Bale reveals the two things he hates about Real Madrid: 'Getting nutmegged and Spanish spiders'
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid superstar 'sends his hair stylist to look after his waxwork once a month'
Six things we learnt: Louis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United; Henderson becoming the genuine heir to Gerrard
Terminally-ill Club Brugge fan Lorenzo Schoonbaert delays euthanasia appointment to see his beloved football club 'win one last time'
Steven Gerrard tribute match: An alternative XI the Liverpool player wouldn't want crashing the Anfield party
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 4 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin