Johnson returns as Vialli era is forgotten

Watford 2 Grimsby Town 0

Watford fans could be excused for rubbing their eyes in disbelief this morning when they see that their team has risen to a lofty fourth place in Division One. But, yes, blink and look again, and the Hornets are still there.

Ray Lewington's side was helped by playing – and winning – when all of the six teams who started the day above them were excused duty due to the international fixtures. Nevertheless, Watford supporters might just start to believe that a return to the Premiership is not just something that belongs to their wildest dreams, even if this was as unconvincing a victory as it is possible to imagine, given the limitations of opponents Grimsby.

For the vast majority of the match Dominic Foley's goal proved to be the difference between the two teams. Tommy Smith's late, injury-time strike, after coming on as a substitute, gave an over-generous gloss to the scoreline.

But Lewington was taking nothing away from his players afterwards. He said: "It was a great result and we showed great attitude. We've had players out of position, and shown character and commitment to win the game. The players have been unbelievable." As if taking perverse heart from their financial problems, which have led to Watford's staff and players taking a euphemistically termed "wage deferral" in the past fortnight, the Hertfordshire club's fortunes have been on the up.

They extended their unbeaten run to seven games and a symbol of their regeneration, under the keen eye of the former reserve team manager Lewington, was the return of midfielder Richard Johnson. The Australian's last start at Vicarage Road was when Watford were last in the Premiership, back in April 2000 against Derby County. He picked up a knee ligament injury that was not properly diagnosed and did not play at all last season, but two operations later he has finally been able to resume his place in the first team.

The fairytale would have had Johnson playing a part in Watford's opening goal that came after 14 minutes, but instead it owed more to bad Grimsby defending and the alertness of Foley.

Danny Webber, the striker who is on-loan from Manchester United, forced a good save from Danny Coyne, leading to a corner. From the ensuing set-piece, the division's second-bottom side failed to clear the danger and Foley was there to complete the formalities from five yards.

That roused Grimsby and Stephen Kabba went close with a run and shot. The forward then chested down a cross into Stacey Coldicott's path, but the midfielder dragged his shot wide.

After Webber missed a glorious opportunity to double Watford's lead just three minutes after the re-start, Grimsby dominated without creating any clear-cut opportunities. Victory was sealed when the Mariners were caught pushing up and Smith ran clear of Iain Ward to steer his shot into the corner.

Watford 2 Grimsby Town 0
Foley 13, Smith 90

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 13,821