No bubbles just more troubles as double red adds to day of disaster
THERE is an old Russian saying which residents of Veliky Novgorod, Watford’s twin town on the banks of the Volkhov, know well.
“Those who don’t take risks don’t drink champagne.”
At Vicarage Road, against opponents who will not enjoy a more comfortable afternoon in the Championship this season, Sheffield United certainly made a series of bold and calculated gambles.”
But, having seen nearly all of them backfire in catastrophic fashion, they are in grave danger of quaffing flat beer rather than chilled bubbly come May.
Micky Adams had vowed to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of survival.
But the United manager was left ruing his decision to thrust Darius Henderson straight back into action following an 11 month absence when the combative centre-forward was dismissed after less than half an hour of what a disastrous return from injury.
When Lee Williamson - another Watford old boy - followed in equally contentious fashion just seven minutes later, the visitors - 23rd in the table and still six points adrift of safety - were reduced to chasing shadows rather than the result they required to re-invigorate a troubled campaign.
With both now set to miss Saturday’s Yorkshire derby with Leeds little wonder that Nick Montgomery, United’s longest serving player and member of 2006’s promotion-winning squad, conceded that rescuing the situation would represent “probably the greatest achievement” of his career.
“If we come through then I think it would be bigger than reaching the Premier League because everything seems to be against us,” said Montgomery. “But there’s still a belief among the lads that we can.
“There are nine games left now and we’ve just got to get on with things. But, whatever happens, it’s still been a disappointing season, and that’s football I’m afraid.
“I’ve seen a lot during my time here. We’ve had to sell a lot of top players because, for whatever reason, the money that used to be there isn’t now.
“The challenge now has got to be the toughest we’ve faced. But I’m still adamant that we can come through it.”
Like Adams, who hinted afterwards that he could ask for referee Dean Whitestone’s interpretation of events to be reviewed, Montgomery felt both red cards were “harsh”.
Henderson, who had already been cautioned for fouling John Eustace, received a second yellow card after catching Lee Hodson as he attempted to prod home an equaliser following Danny Graham’s farcical early strike.
With the stricken youngster being carried off the pitch on a stretcher, Malky Makay, Adams’s opposite number, insisted the official had been lenient.
“We’ve got a boy in hospital with a suspected broken ankle,” he said. “It was a straight red.”
But Montgomery saw things differently, also disputing the Scot’s claim that Williamson could have no qualms about receiving United’s second red of the contest for colliding with Lloyd Doyley.
“Darius’s first was never a booking and because of that the ref left himself with nowhere to go,” he said. “There was no intent from Willo either. At best it was a yellow but to get sent straight off for that?”
“Darius’ reputation has gone before him I’m afraid,” added Adams. “Don’t get me wrong, I desperately hope their lad (Hodson) is okay. I sincerely do.
“But Darius didn’t mean to do that - no way - and it was a goalscoring opportunity.”
Who knows? Had United not conceded in comical fashion then Henderson might not have felt compelled to fling himself at Joe Mattock’s free-kick.
Steve Simonsen showed fine reactions to stop Neill Collins slicing Don Cowie’s cross into his own net but was powerless to prevent Graham from turning home the rebound.
At a distinct numerical disadvantage, United were reduced to damage limitation.
Martin Taylor punctured their stoic resistance soon after the restart after Simonsen had tipped substitute Adam Thompson’s effort on to the bar before Ross Jenkins cruelly converted Eustace’s cross during the closing stages.
Adams should take heart from how what remained of his team simply refused to surrender.
However, given their perilous predicament, it will provide little - if indeed any - consolation.
“We are in a war,” he said. “What we’ve just lost is a battle.”
But United must enter the next without two of their biggest guns.
It doesn’t get any easier does it? That was a no contest. We’ll never know how good Watford are will we?. Because after going down to nine we never stood a chance. With 10 men. Maybe. But not with nine. The boys who were left, though, in my opinion, battled hard.