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
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