Season Preview Part 4 12/08/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
The Olympics are all well and good I suppose, but what you really wanted to be doing this summer was reading about Huddersfield Town? No? Next four up Tuesday…
INS: Oliver Norwood (Manchester United, £400,000), Keith Southern (Blackpool, £300,000), Adam Clayton (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Anthony Gerrard (Cardiff City, Undisclosed), Sean Scannell (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Paul Dixon (Dundee United, Free), Joel Lynch (Nottingham Forest, Free)
OUTS: Danny Cadamarteri (Carlisle United, Free), Aiden Chippendale (Accrington Stanley, Free), Nathan Clarke (Leyton Orient, Free), Antony Kay (Franchise FC, Free), Tommy Miller (Swindon Town, Free), Gary Naysmith (Aberdeen, Free), Jamie McCombe, Greg Pearson, Gary Roberts, Simon Thomas
OUR EX-TERRIERS: Joe Garner
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Going back a bit… the opening day of GT’s last season and a fortunate win courtesy of a Coxy-into-the-wall free kick that went into the net too (followed by listening to a now legendary 606 call that still enters conversation in Row SS of the Rookery on occasions some 12 years on). And a quite grotesque home defeat just before Christmas the same year in which our tumble from contention was confirmed as terminal. Having led the division in early November, the defeat left us 18 points behind Fulham.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Dixon Clarke Lynch Hunt
Southern Clayton Norwood
Scannell Rhodes Ward
VERDICT: Another new side to assess, a side that we haven’t played for a while… and a side that have brought in at least half a team’s worth of replacements over the summer, so kinda difficult to make a call on. Not to mention the Jordan Rhodes thing… Blackburn are, at the time of writing, only the most recent side to be linked with the prolific striker and if a deal goes through it’s safe to assume that some of the income will be spent on yet more replacements. So… even harder to call. As it stands, the Terriers look heavily reliant on Rhodes up front, who has looked isolated in a 4-5-1 pre-season with fellow strikers Lee Novak, warhorse Alan Lee and youngster James Spencer not popularly expected to make the step up comfortably. Simon Grayson will either need to replace Rhodes or find adequate cover for him; elsewhere, the new signings look decent but most were either regulars in struggling sides or bit-part players in better sides last season, so don’t expect more than a dropping of anchor in mid-table. I’ll say bottom half, but they’ll only struggle if goalscorer Rhodes is injured or unsuccessfully replaced.
INS: Nick Proschwitz (SC Paderborn 07, £2,600,000), Sone Aluko (Rangers, Free), Alex Bruce (Leeds United, Free), Abdoulaye Faye (West Ham United, Free), Eldin Jakupovic (Aris Salonika, Free), Ben Amos (Manchester United, Season Loan)
OUTS: Dele Adebola (Rochdale, Free), Will Atkinson (Bradford City, Free), Kamel Ghilas (Stade de Reims, Free), Kevin Kilbane (Coventry City, Free), James Harper (Hungerford Town, Free), Nick Barmby, Richard Garcia, Sonny Bradley (Aldershot Town, Season Loan), Mark Cullen (Bury, Six Month Loan)
OUR EX-TIGERS: Mark Yeates
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Chris Iwelumo opening his Watford account in what nonetheless ended up as a 3-2 defeat at the KC Stadium in October, and a sleepy 1-1 draw at the Vic in April which concluded with Buaben at right back after Mariappa’s dismissal.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Rosenior Hobbs Chester Dudgeon
Koren McKenna Evans Aluko
VERDICT: Interesting how clubs redefine themselves after brief spells in the top flight. Some manage to yo-yo (and even end up just “yo”ing, as GT once famously put it). Some bomb out. Many have floundered with the uncertainty of the stick-or-twist gamble against parachute payments.
City shed themselves of the unlikeable Phil Brown, wobbled a bit, underwent a change of ownership and are now solid top half fodder, probably a notch or two higher in the pecking order than they were before their nonetheless fully deserved promotion in 2008. Now on their third manager since relegation (Steve Bruce following the brief tenures of Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby), the side has remained solid but unspectacular throughout. Scoring goals was the problem last season – only Reading conceded fewer, but 47 goals scored in 46 games never felt like promotion form. Even with Player of the Year Koren signing the new contract that he’s dawdled over all summer I can’t see that changing… Proschwitz carries a big price tag but is relatively inexperienced, with one season in the Swiss top flight and one in the German second tier at a decent level. Big ask. Top half, but no cigar… eleventh.
INS: Elliott Hewitt (Macclesfield Town, Undisclosed), Scott Loach (Watford, Undisclosed), Luke Chambers (Nottingham Forest, Free), Massimo Luongo (Tottenham Hotspur, Season Loan)
OUTS: Grant Leadbitter (Middlesbrough, Free), Richard Wright (Preston North End, Free), Lee Bowyer, Cody Cropper, Ibrahima Sonko, Mark Kennedy (retired)
OUR EX-BLUES: Alec Chamberlain
THEIR EX-ORNS: Michael Chopra, Nathan Ellington, Scott Loach
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Lots of wins. Hurrah. In both of last seasons games Town were ahead both at the interval and with twenty minutes remaining, but ended up losing both – the second, memorably, to Troy Deeney’s Goal of the Season.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Edwards Chambers Smith Cresswell
Hyam Carson Luongo
VERDICT: Conscious as I am that it feels very much as if I’ve been kinda predicting that most clubs will finish preeeetty much where they finished last season, here’s a (small) deviation. In a season where there are, surprisingly and rather unusually, not very many absolutely desperate clubs in the division as it stands, Ipswich could be in a spot of bother. It’s not that there’s not quality in the side… we were terrorised for 45 minutes by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas at the Vic earlier in the year, Lee Martin is finally becoming a player, Chambers and the on-loan Luongo are both good signings. It’s… well… that sense of decay that I mentioned during the Bristol City bit again. The Roy Keane charade felt like a soap opera plotline that was well telegraphed and just needed to be seen through… and Paul Jewell’s tenure doesn’t feel any different. Plus – getting down to, you know, details rather than hunches – the squad is rather thin as it stands . Thin in the “useful cover” sense of course, there are a number of persona non grata eating up big wages who wouldn’t qualify as thin, Nathan Ellington for one, Jimmy Bullard for another – whom Jewell was talking up last week in what felt like a rather desperate bid to attract a presumably equally desperate suitor. In Keane, Jewell and Bullard it does feel as if Ipswich have been making some costly decisions. All a bit precarious all in all… not favourites for the drop, but it wouldn’t take a lot…
INS: Jason Pearce (Portsmouth, £500,000), Luke Varney (Portsmouth, £300,000), Rodolph Austin (SK Brann, Undisclosed), David Norris (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Lee Peltier (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Jamie Ashdown (Portsmouth, Free), Andy Gray (Barnsley, Free), Paddy Kenny (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Adam Drury (Norwich City, Free), Paul Green (Leeds United, Free), El-Hadji Diouf (Doncaster Rovers, Non-contract)
OUTS: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City, £3,000,000), Adam Clayton (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Alex Bruce (Hull City, Free), Andy Lonergan (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Andy O’Brien (Vancouver Whitecaps, Free), Maik Taylor (Millwall, Free), Mikael Forssell, Ben Parker, Lloyd Sam, Mika Vayrynen, Danny Webber
OUR EX-WHITES: Carl Dickinson
THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby, Neil Redfearn (Reserve Team Coach)
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Leeds nicked an unmerited point from Vicarage Road in November in a game memorable for Mariappa’s Bobby Moore tackle on Becchio and Kightly’s subsequent goal, but were flattened by Chris Iwelumo’s stand-out performance of the season at Elland Road in April.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Peltier Lees Pearce White
Green Austin Norris Varney
VERDICT: The thing about Colin’s success at QPR was they weren’t a bunch of bruisers when he went there. On the contrary, whilst there was talent in the squad they were something of a soft touch… so in strode Colin, did his thing, gave them a bit of nasty and completed the picture. Leeds… weren’t quite in the same boat, were they? So… in February, Colin arrives to replace Simon Grayson, grumbles a lot about the squad he’s inherited, manages to win three in fourteen and notches up Leeds’ biggest ever home defeat (against Forest of all people) and when he finally gets to the transfer window an already aggressive, competitive Leeds side evolves into a parody, an exaggerated super-Warnocked bunch of bruisers. They’ve even got Paddy Kenny in goal, for goodness’ sake.
Key movers in the recent trend towards job lot transfers (and heaven knows we’re not in a position to criticise here), Leeds have reacted to shipping three quarters of their midfield to Norwich in the past twelve months (Snodgrass joining January departee Howson and last summer’s sale Bradley Johnson) by bringing in half of what was left of Portsmouth’s squad. And a Jamaican called Rodolph Austin, signed from Norway, who Leeds’ official site describes as a “no-nonsense midfielder” who was nicknamed “The Beast” in Norway. Naturally he was.
The well-publicised (apparent) collapse of a prolonged attempted takeover has provoked much (understandable) hand-wringing in West Yorkshire; without the implied boost to his transfer budget, Warnock’s squad looks thin and light on both goals and creativity. You wouldn’t want to take them on at British Bulldog, and on that basis it’s reasonable to assume that there’s no danger of Leeds actually struggling with relegation again, but not nearly enough here to challenge the top half. Eighteenth.
Season Preview Part 3 10/08/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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For a horrible night, this lot disappeared into the ether. No, in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t have mattered but I’d rather burn up a load of time on something that actually makes the blog. Anyway… my co-editor helped recover this situation and so we continue…
INS: Kim Bo-Hyung (Cerezo Osaka, £2,000,000), Heidar Helguson (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Etien Velikonja (NK Maribor, Undisclosed), Joe Lewis (Peterborough United, Free)
OUTS: Anthony Gerrard (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps, Undisclosed), Tom Heaton (Bristol City, Free), Jon Parkin (Fleetwood Town, Free), Paul Quinn (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Aaron Wildig (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Alex Evans, Jon Meades, Jordan Santiago
OUR EX-BLUEBIRDS: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Neal Ardley (Academy Manager), Richard Collinge (Medical), Don Cowie, Heidar Helguson, Martin Hodge (Opposition Analyst), David Kerslake (Assistant Manager), Malky Mackay (Manager), Joe McBride (First Team Coach), Iain Moody (Head of Player Recruitment), Jordon Mutch, Andrew Taylor
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two 1-1 draws last season, each concluded with a late equaliser from the away side.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
McNaughton Turner Hudson Taylor
Cowie Gunnarsson Whittingham Kim
VERDICT: Various developments in football in recent(ish) years have provoked pondering over what it is that we actually support. Is it the entity, the club itself, the company, the brand? Irrespective of where it plays, for example? And if not, then what? The badge? The name? Or the whole thing, the collective, the community?
The colours, in the grand scheme of things, are not in themselves vital. They’re important, of course, they’re part of our memories and associations, the stuff that loyalties are built off. But clubs have changed colourschemes before and the world didn’t collapse… we became the Hornets in the summer of 1959 and the following season saw our first Football League promotion, a cup run and Holton and Uphill scoring a millionty one goals.
It’s what the decision to switch from blue to red – or rather the imposition of this condition – indicates that’s the problem. The times when most clubs, even second tier clubs, were owned by local businessmen feel like a long time ago; when overseas takeovers happen – we should know – the line about respecting the values and traditions of the club is almost a given. Cardiff’s new owners have pissed all over that. You can argue that year upon year of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul whilst seemingly holding out for a promotion bail-out created the situation that led to City not being able to turn this preposterous condition down. But City fans have still every right to be pissed off.
Meanwhile, Malky Mackay has recruited yet more familiar faces, and if the signing of Jordon Mutch was a surprise, the capture of H is almost heartbreaking. There’s going to come a time when his little black book is going to run out of names, of course, and it will be interesting to see how City’s recruitment policy fares then; for the moment, City have loads of options in midfield and up front, and if the full back positions still look a little wobbly defensively you’d fancy Cardiff for another play-off tilt at worst.
INS: Lawrie Wilson (Stevenage, Undisclosed), Jordan Cook (Sunderland, Free), Salim Kerkar (Rangers, Free)
OUTS: Gary Doherty (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Conor Gough (Bristol Rovers, Free), Freddie Warren (Barnet, Free), Mikel Alonso, Jason Euell, Tosan Popo
OUR EX-ADDICKS: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Alex Dyer (Assistant Manager), Johnnie Jackson, Chris Powell (Manager)
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two wins as Charlton went down in 2008/09, the first under Aidy Boothroyd at Vicarage Road in August in a match settled by Tommy Smith, the second under Brendan Rodgers at the Valley in April in which Grzegorz Rasiak scored the Goal of the Season as the ‘orns came from behind.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Solly Cort Morrison Wiggins
Stephens Hollands Jackson
Haynes Kermorgant Cook
VERDICT: Always hard to make judgements about teams coming up of course; the last couple of years have seen sides galloping through to successive promotions, or at least putting significant pressure on the top of the table. The comprehensive margin of the Addicks’ promotion last season suggests that they are best placed to take the division by storm this time, but frankly I can’t see it. There aren’t enough goals in the side, the squad is thin and the summer strengthening looks limited at the time of writing. There is clearly a decent side there – right back Chris Solly is highly sought after, and others such as former Watford target Rhoys Wiggins have good reputations but there’s relatively little experience at second tier level. Fourteenth.
INS: Joel Ward (Portsmouth, £400,000), Peter Ramage (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Aaron Wilbraham (Norwich City, Free), Aaron Martin (Southampton, Season Loan)
OUTS: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, Tribunal), Darren Ambrose (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Sean Scannell (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Jake Caprice (Blackpool, Free), Anthony Gardner (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Lee Hills (Stevenage, Free), Calvin Andrew, Charlie Holness, Nathaniel Pinney
OUR EX-EAGLES: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two of last season’s lowest points; a painfully easy 2-0 win in October and an incongruous hammering at Selhurst Park in February.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Ward McCarthy Martin Parr
Williams O’Keefe Jedinak Moxey
VERDICT: Palace started well last season, but only won six games in the League from late-October (when they sat third); we won 14 in the same period. They didn’t register a win in their last nine, and the balance of players in/out as it stands doesn’t look great. Clyne has been about to leave for a while, but a star turn has nonetheless been replaced by a steady if versatile Joel Ward. Ambrose and Scannell may not have delivered consistently (I’ve expressed my reservations about Darren Ambrose already in the Birmingham piece) but both nonetheless created chances and scored goals, whilst in Gardner an experienced stopper has been lost. Expecting replacements to match the contribution of the departees is optimistic… and Palace were hardly setting the world alight in any case.
That said the impressive Palace production line continues to turn out first team players – Stuart O’Keefe is established in midfield, 18 year-old starlet Jonathan Williams will get more game time and should the Eagles continue to resist offers for Zaha the only question will be where Dougie Freedman chooses to play him – he’s the squad’s only senior winger, but his contribution might be needed in the centre. Freedman has done reasonably well in the transfer market too, Mile Jedinak and Jonathan Pore being the two big successes of last summer. On the face of it, Palace should stay up but you worry about the resilience of the set-up if things start to go wrong. The squad is thin, very young and reliant on a couple of key players. Freedman has, as isn’t unusual, been extremely cautious and defensive when put under pressure. I’ll back Palace to stay up again, but it wouldn’t take a lot… we could have done with playing them a bit later in the season, frankly, when our squad has bedded in a bit, and theirs may be exposed.
INS: Paul Coutts (Preston North End, Undisclosed), Michael Jacobs (Northampton Town, Undisclosed), Richard Keogh (Coventry City, Undisclosed), James O’Connor (Doncaster Rovers, Undisclosed). Michael Hoganson (Newcastle United, Free)
OUTS: Jason Shackell (Burnley, £1,100,000), Miles Addison (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed), Chris Maguire (Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed), Ryan Connolly (Sligo Rovers, Free), Paul Green (Leeds United, Free), James Severn (Scunthorpe United, Free), Aaron Cole, Chris Jones, Callum Ball (Coventry City, Season Loan), Lee Croft (Oldham Athletic, Season Loan)
OUR EX-RAMS: John Eustace
THEIR EX-ORNS: Theo Robinson
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A smash and grab win by Derby at Vicarage Road that was more disciplined away performance and less travesty of justice than some accounts recorded, and an Alex Kacaniklic-inspired triumph at Pride Park in February.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Brayford Keogh Buxton Roberts
Coutts Hendrick Bryson Jacobs
VERDICT: The Rams finished last season with a virtually identical record to ourselves, same points, same GD, twelfth instead of eleventh by virtue of six fewer goals scored. Expectation is perhaps higher at Pride Park however, and patience with Nigel Clough’s steady building is running a little thin. The bizarre sale of Jason Shackell to Burnley may prove to have been a tipping point; with the talented but injury prone skipper Shaun Barker out for the entirety of the forthcoming season it seems an odd decision and has been greeted as such. Recruiting Coventry’s player of the season Richard Keogh won’t hurt, but Keogh was POTS in a relegated side and will be doing well if he matches Shackell’s contribution. With Paul Green heading back to Yorkshire with Leeds, Derby look horribly short of nous and experience. Some decent young players – Coutts and Jacobs were both sought after, Hendrick and O’Brien looked terrific at Vicarage Road a year ago – but not enough goals, and not enough cover. Won’t be involved in the relegation scrap, but won’t be finishing top half again either in what could be a pivotal season for Clough, long-term plan or otherwise.
Season Preview Part 2 08/08/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Part Deux. Next lot up Friday.
INS: Andy Lonergan (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Matt Mills (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Keith Andrews (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Joe McKee (Burnley, Free), Benik Afobe (Arsenal, Season Loan)
OUTS: Rhys Bennett (Rochdale, Free), Robbie Blake (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Mark Connolly (Crawley Town, Free), Tom Eckersley (Accrington Stanley, Free), Jussi Jaaskelainen (West Ham United, Free), Tope Obadeyi (Rio Ave, Free), Sean Davis, Dino Fazic, Ricardo Gardner, Ivan Klasnic, Nigel Reo-Coker, Paul Robinson, Gretar Steinsson
OUR EX-TROTTERS: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Chris Eagles, Joe McLaughlin (scout), Marvin Sordell
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two one-nil defeats in the last Premiership season… daylight robbery at the Reebok, where a Gary Speed penalty in the sixth minute of added time gave the home side an implausible triumph, and a far more credible scoreline from the return at Vicarage Road, Nicolas Anelka the goalscorer on this occasion.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Mears Ream Mills Ricketts
Eagles Pratley Andrews Petrov
VERDICT: In the end, it was all about Marvin. We wanted Bolton to stay up because that would have secured us a bigger slice of transfer fee, and because you kind of wanted Marvin to be given a shot, to show them what he could do. It didn’t happen, and Wanderers’ eleven-year stretch in the top flight – they were promoted with Blackburn during GT’s last season – came to an end.
Much as Owen Coyle may have lost a little of his lustre, however, you’d have to give Wanderers a better than evens shout of going straight back up. There are similarities – up to a point – with the West Ham squad that somehow got itself relegated two years ago… there’s no Scott Parker figure, admittedly, and no unpleasant celebrity cabal running the show, but you do look at the squad and wonder how that happened. Injuries to key players didn’t help… Lee and Holden should both be fit to contribute to this season’s efforts, although the Korean has already been linked to moves away. But ultimately it was a lack of creativity in midfield that cost Bolton; a solid side with a few goals in it, however, is a much likelier recipe to succeed in the second tier. Considering the cover that Wanderers have in most positions (Lonergan in goal, Knight and Wheater at the back, Mark Davies, Lee, Holden in midfield, Ngog up front), iffy finances or no, you’d have to fancy them for automatic promotion.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
INS: Andrew Crofts (Norwich City, Undisclosed), Tomasz Kuszczak (Manchester United, Free), Bruno Saitor (Valencia, Free), Charlie Oatway (not that one) (no club), Wayne Bridge (Manchester City, Season Loan)
OUTS: Alan Navarro (Swindon Town, Free), Michael Poke (Torquay United, Free), Leon Redwood (Brentford, Free), Mitch Walker (Dover Athletic, Free), David Gonzalez, Ryan Simmonds, Jamie Strong, Jake Forster-Caskey (Oxford United, Six Month Loan)
OUR EX-SEAGULLS: Chris Iwelumo, Mark Yeates
THEIR EX-ORNS: Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Will Hoskins, Tomasz Kuszczak
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Troy Deeney winning the home encounter by missing an easy chance then scraping in the rebound; hanging on for a point in a dramatic match at the Amex in April in which Kuszczak, perhaps unfortunately, was outstanding.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Bruno El Abd Dunk Bridge
Noone Bridcutt Crofts Vicente
VERDICT: If you’re looking for a side to follow in the path of Norwich/Swansea/Reading/Southampton, a sort of well-run provincial club that’s got a shout of upsetting the yo-yoing of relegated sides and their increasingly comfortable parachute payments, it’s difficult to look beyond the Seagulls. They may not have achieved the successive promotions that their previous season had suggested might be on the cards, but a solid tenth still represents a decent return and nobody who was at the Amex for our game at the end of last season will doubt the potential of the set-up. They’ve added well too, of course… we know only too well what a monstrous presence Kuszczak will be at this level, and the signing of two decent full backs addresses another area perceived as a relative weakness. The retention of Vicente is the biggie, of course, and much might depend on whether they can coax more than eleven starts from the fragile but mercurial playmaker.
If there’s a weakness, it’s in the striking positions. Watford fan CMS might be the player many of us wish we’d signed on several occasions, but the suspicion is that he doesn’t quite fit into Gus Poyet’s style of play, despite remaining the club’s (and Poyet’s) record signing. Will Hoskins has been in form in pre-season but has been walking the tightrope of being the next-big-thing-just-needs-a-run for eternity without quite making it. And of course, as both our games last season demonstrated, there’s a bit of volatile nastiness about Albion that might work against them when they don’t get the breaks. Bloody good side though. Third or fourth, probably, with an outside chance of automatic.
INS: Greg Cunningham (Manchester City, Undisclosed), Paul Anderson (Nottingham Forest, Free), Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, Free), Jody Morris (St Johnstone, Free)
OUTS: Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Notts County, Free), David Clarkson (Bristol Rovers, Free), Marlon Jackson (Hereford United, Free), Jamie McAllister (Yeovil Town, Free), Christian Ribeiro (Scunthorpe United, Free), Dan Ball, Khalifa Cissé, David James, Henry Muggeridge
OUR EX-ROBINS: Chris Iwelumo
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two matches featuring pivotal errors by the home keeper; Scott Loach’s airkick gifting City a scarcely deserved point at Vicarage Road, David James’ unchallenged punch into his own net heralding a straightforward evening for the Hornets at Ashton Gate.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Foster Fontaine Nyatanga Cunningham
Adomah Morris Elliott Anderson
VERDICT: Sometimes, gradually, a club just develops a smell. Like damp. A sense that something isn’t quite right, an indication that problems haven’t been dealt with. Such is the case with City at the moment. Steve Coppell’s extravagance at the start of the season before last, when he committed the club to a considerable wage bill for players of questionable ability hamstrung the Robins and even now, two years on and with many of those players now departed, you get the feeling that decay has set in. Nicky Maynard departed in January and hasn’t been replaced, and there isn’t a whole lot of threat in that side as it stands.
In fairness to Derek McInnes, the most fundamental failing of the shocking City side that the Hornets beat effortlessly at Ashton Gate towards the end of the season has been addressed. City’s full backs that night were both in their mid thirties and completely unable to push up to support the consequently isolated wingers – Adomah, probably the side’s most talented attacking player, was being expected to do it all himself, which never looked likely. Greg Cunningham has been brought in for the departed McAllister, and surely stalwart centre back Louis Carey has played his last game at right back. Nonetheless… definitely the wrong end of the table for City, who will be strong relegation candidates unless they can find some goals from somewhere.
INS: Jason Shackell (Derby County, £1,100,000), Luke O’Neill (Mansfield, Undisclosed), Sam Vokes (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), George Porter (Leyton Orient, TBC), Joseph Mills (Reading, Season Loan)
OUTS: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, £6,000,000), Joe McKee (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Andre Amougou, Clarke Carlisle, Brian Easton, Zavon Hines, Tom Anderson (Barrow, Six Month Loan), Joe Jackson (Barrow, Six Month Loan)
OUR EX-CLARETS: Chris Iwelumo
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: More symmetry – almost – as we surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw on the opening day at Turf Moor and the Clarets went won better, losing 3-2 at the Vic having been 2-0 up shortly after half time.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Trippier Edgar Shackell Mills
Stanislas McCann Bartley Treacy
VERDICT: The Clarets ended the season on wobbly form, and the most eye-catching transfer they were involved in over the summer was the big money departure of Jay Rodriguez. Despite these portents, the mood around Turf Moor seems positive – Eddie Howe is building a handy-looking side and if Rodriguez was the big departure then the incoming much-travelled Jason Shackell, who oddly spent only a year with Derby County, is a leader at the back. The side is young, has options in most positions and has plenty of pace – they won’t be threatening the play-off places, but won’t be troubled either. Work in progress, and a side that will probably be quite fun to support.
Season Preview Part 1 06/08/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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OK. Here we go… four today, four more Wednesday morning.
INS: Ben Alnwick (Tottenham Hotspur, Free), Lee Collins (Port Vale, Free), Kelvin Etuhu (Portsmouth, Free), Jacob Mellis (Chelsea, Free), Mido (Zamalek, Free), Toni Silva (Liverpool, Free)
OUTS: Jacob Butterfield (Norwich City, Undisclosed), David Cotterill (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Nathan Doyle (Bradford City, Free), Andy Gray (Leeds United, Free), Jay McEveley (Swindon Town, Free), David Preece, Alastair Taylor
OUR EX-TYKES: Carl Dickinson
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two inconspicuous games last season… a 1-1 draw at a damp but sunny Oakwell in September, followed by a 2-1 victory courtesy of a John Eustace brace in February.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Wiseman Edwards Foster Golbourne
Dagnall Mellis Etuhu
VERDICT: On the face of it, of course, it’s a brilliant plan for a smaller club with aspirations. The Pozzo plan, the plan that involves recruiting rough diamonds, polishing them and selling them on when their market value nears tipping point. You need to get past that romantically foolish notion which sees you gradually assembling a brilliant team of players that are both hugely talented and simultaneously unflinchingly loyal, of course. But once you’ve got your head around that… it’s a no brainer. Thing is, it’s that first two bits that are tricky. Shipping your best players is easy.
Ask Barnsley. Ricardo Vaz Té went in January, Jacob Butterfield – out of contract but under 24 – has gone to Norwich in this transfer window. They left a side that looked solid if unspectacular in our games last season but significantly, dropped like a stone after Vaz Té’s departure and were rather fortunate that time ran out when it did. Coming in there are… well, punts really. Mellis has a good reputation at junior levels but not enough potential for a Prem side to give him a contract after his ignominious exit from Chelsea. Etuhu has looked kind of promising at a few clubs now without delivering and, at 24, really needs to establish himself. And of course Mido; a big name for an increasingly big man, never the most consistently motivated of players when turning out in the top flight one wonders how the Egyptian, who looks to be carrying a colossal amount of timber from pre-season pics, will take to wet January evenings in, well, Barnsley.
There are some tough, experienced players here; Barnsley shouldn’t be written off altogether. Playing with an ever more limited hand, however, keeping Barnsley up would be a big achievement for the erratic Keith Hill.
INS: Darren Ambrose (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Peter Lovenkrands (Newcastle United, Free), David Lucas (Rochdale, Free), Hayden Mullins (Portsmouth, Free), Ben Gordon (Chelsea, Six Month Loan)
OUTS: Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion, Undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City, Undisclosed), Luke Hubbins (AFC Telford United, Free), Caleb Folan, Cian Hughton, Ashley Sammons, Enric Valles
OUR EX-BLUES: Martin Taylor
THEIR EX-ORNS: Marlon King
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A2-2 draw in Jonthan Hogg’s August debut (this fixture the August bank holiday game once more this season) at the end of which two goals dug out by Marvin Sordell glossed over a rather lumpy performance. And a 3-0 tonking at St Andrews in January; our third league reverse on the hop and the week before Spurs in the Cup, this was arguably our lowest point of the season.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Carr Davies Caldwell Gordon
Burke Mullins Gomis Ambrose
VERDICT: Clubs in crisis. Clubs in post-crisis meltdown. Clubs that aren’t quite in crisis but that everyone knows are avoiding an issue and hoping it goes away. Clubs that were once in crisis but have come through and are now scraping a living together. Clubs that were once in crisis but have found a new benefactor. Hell, I’m not sure I know where we fit in that list any more, let alone anyone else.
So, Birmingham then. A year or two ago they’d be in the stick-or-twist position that clubs relegated from the top flight inevitably faced if they failed to secure immediate promotion; nowadays, a thicker slab of parachute payments is spread over four years so, whatever is going on in Hong Kong, the pressures from the domestic football infrastructure aren’t there.
The Blues made the play-offs last time round; that’s got to go down as a decent outcome given the turbulent backdrop they faced. Since then they’ve replaced their manager and brought in Lee Clark, who was the recipient of public sympathy when dumped by Huddersfield last season but significantly and interestingly seemed to be regarded rather less warmly by correspondents from West Yorkshire. His signings so far this summer have been solid cogs but not game changers; Hayden Mullins is hugely experienced but is 33 and was relegated amidst the Pompey chaos last season. Darren Ambrose has done for us often enough, but is more used to being a star player in a poor team than he is to chasing promotion; the last four years have seen him relegated with Charlton and struggling with Palace, it’s not since the early years of his career that he spent a year at the right end of any division. Overall… the Blues’ first team looks strong, of course, and there are kids like Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland, if he stays, bubbling under. I just can’t see the Blues being any stronger or more convincing than they were last year. Play-offs with a prevailing wind, but my money would be on top half but no cigar.
INS: Leon Best (Newcastle United, £3,000,000), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, Undisclosed), Edinho Junior (Olhanense, Undisclosed), Paulo Jorge (Porto B, Undisclosed), Fabio Nunes (Portimonese, Undisclosed), Nuno Gomes (Braga, Free), Danny Murphy (Fulham, Free)
OUTS: Yakubu (Guangzhou, Undisclosed), Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Matty Pearson (Rochdale, Free), Michel Salgado, Ryan Edwards (Rochdale, Six Month Loan)
OUR EX-ROVERS: Joe Garner, Martin Taylor
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A first win in eleven during the last Premiership season during which Jay DeMerit scored the winner and Robbie Savage broke his leg, and a comprehensive defeat of a bedraggled Watford side at Ewood Park at the end of the season, the week after both sides had lost in the FA Cup Semi Finals.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Orr Dann Hanley Henley
Pedersen Dunn Nunes
VERDICT: Well who the hell knows, frankly. Looking at the squad list, and even guessing that a few of the names that remain at the time of writing will be on their way by the end of August, Rovers should be as strong as anyone. The recruitment doesn’t look too shabby either (even if, as someone suggested elsewhere, it looks as if their strategy has been determined in part by a ten year old version of Football Manager).
Thing is… it’s difficult to envisage success for a club so obviously in turmoil, where the ferocity of distrust between supporters and owners/management is so palpable. And that’s without even considering the bases for this disquiet – far more than mere on-field underperformance. Newcastle were promoted comfortably a few years back, of course, when Mike Ashley had started the season as the focus of no small vitriol. But this feels different… remote ownership, appalling communication and rash decision making at a club that was until recently so well run that you kind of forgot that they were really punching above their weight as a solid, mid-table top flight side.
Based on the names on the roster alone you’d be predicting a play-off place for Rovers, but the last couple of years have seen well-run clubs dominate squads with more illustrious names, by and large, and the serious injury to Leon Best, who looked a surprisingly pragmatic signing, won’t help matters. Given the backdrop at Ewood Park, this is one of those situations where it’s difficult to conceive of an outcome to the season that doesn’t feel plausible at this point in time. I’ll say ninth.
INS: Isaiah Osbourne (Hibernian, Undisclosed), Jake Caprice (Crystal Palace, Free), Tiago Gomes (Hercules, Free), Scott Robertson (Dundee United, Free)
OUTS: Keith Southern (Huddersfield Town, £300,000), Daniel Bogdanovic (FC Mosta, Free), Matt Hill (Sheffield United, Free), Stephen Husband (Dunfermline Athletic, Free), Lomano Lua Lua (Karabukspor, Free), Brett Ormerod (Wrexham, Free)
OUR EX-SEASIDERS: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Craig Cathcart, Keith Millen (Head of Coaching & Development), Kevin Phillips
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A point won at Bloomfield Road in December and our only defeat of the final two months of the season on Good Friday to a deserving but irritating Blackpool side.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Eardley Evatt Baptiste Crainey
Robertson Ferguson Angel
M.Phillips Taylor-Fletcher Ince
VERDICT: Comfortably the most impressive visitors to Vicarage Road last season not to have gained promotion, the Seasiders missed out in the play offs but Ian Holloway nonetheless takes huge credit for riding the loss of key players last summer, coping with the inevitable turbulence brought about by relegation and rebuilding his side which came out looking competitive and credible the other side. Plenty of clubs have failed to respond as positively to a season in the top flight, we should know.
The cost of failing to gain promotion, of course, is increased attention on the Seasiders’ bigger name players with Alex Baptiste and Matt Phillips linked with a move (albeit still at Bloomfield Road at the time of writing). Blackpool forums suggest that Phillips Jr isn’t quite the world beater that transfer tittle-tattle suggests just yet; nonetheless, the pace of Phillips and Ince on the break was a key part of Blackpool’s lethal counter-attacking at Vicarage Road at Easter and wouldn’t be trivial to replace. With Stephen Dobbie, who spent a significant second loan spell at Bloomfield Road at the tail end of the season, back at Swansea and Lua Lua, a popular sub last term, another departee it’s the attacking positions that look weakest. It’s tempting to suggest that the Seasiders’ best chance went last season with a strong set of sides entering the division from either direction, but Ian Holloway’s pre-season tone is chipper. You wouldn’t write them off – there or thereabouts.
Not a clue, is the honest answer… and this article is more a snapshot of sentiment at this point in time as the sands shift beneath our feet on a daily basis than any kind of prediction as to how it will end up. Good headline though, isn’t it…?
It’s always awkward when people employed to talk about football are forced out of their (often rather lazy) comfort zone and into discussing the business side instead. Quite what qualifies Lawro or Hansen to comment on any behind-the-scenes machinations isn’t clear, though that doesn’t prohibit such questions being posed on occasions with predictably grotesque consequences.
Here, nobody pays us to talk about football and the beauty of blogging is that pretty much any idiot can do it; we do so because we enjoy it. This blog is the viewpoint of two supporters; we support a football team because we enjoy watching football, primarily, and being part of something. Not because the business of trading in football clubs, which at times is often murky, disheartening and pathetic, holds any great fascination in itself. What follows has to be read with that caveat in mind…
Laurence Bassini then. Well, where to start? Where to finish is easier, frankly, given the club owner’s apparently litigious frame of mind. About now ought to be pretty safe.
What’s beyond dispute is that if it’s been possible, whilst squinting furiously, to overlook Bassini’s appalling PR, less-than-crystal-clear background and (generously) questionable personnel decisions for much of this season whilst Sean Dyche’s team has overachieved pretty spectacularly, that moment has passed.
The paucity of reliable information has made following proceedings somewhat challenging; Kevin Affleck’s well-circulated tweets from somewhere in the middle-east may be well-informed (if soured somewhat by the suspicion of an axe that needs grinding) but tend to suggest and insinuate more than they explain – a tiresome trend duplicated as ever by several who see themselves as “in the know”. The Watford Observer is reporting facts where it can but seems reluctant to speculate or expose itself. As for Bassini, nothing that comes directly from the owner has felt terribly reliable at any stage; nonetheless it’s been bizarre to those of us on the outside looking in to see things emerging from the club in recent days that are in direct contradiction to Bassini’s contributions, as if the club itself had tired of the lack of clarity and started to issue press releases of its own accord.
Using the word “choice” in this context is not appropriate. We don’t even have a handle of what’s happening, let alone any means to influence it, let alone any clear alternatives. But it would be a pretty grim reality that wasn’t preferable to the status quo, with stories of members of staff having the police called on them for refusing to pass on the keys to the club safe, wages not being paid and the club apparently as stable as a house of cards. (He can’t sue me for saying that, can he? Can he sue me for saying that?).
What to make of Pozzo and the takeover, then? Not being Bassini is probably a start in itself, but not a be-all and end-all. There were those that delighted at the Russos taking over chairmanship from Graham Simpson, if anyone needs reminding about difficulties inherent in distinguishing frying pans and fires.
The mooted appendage to a group of Pozzo-owned clubs covers a wide range of outcomes, from the beneficial to the downright depressing. At risk, of course, is the club’s very identity. None of us signed up to support a nursery club for one thing, and its not difficult to envisage that the priorities of a community club (the work undertaken by the Community Trust for example) wouldn’t necessarily be shared by an overseas owner.
On the other hand, this article seemed pretty encouraging when taken at face value. Youth development, check. Tight business model, check. Mutually beneficial? Looks that way. Selling your best players? Well that would hardly be a radical change of tack, nor is it anything but sensible for a club that needs to continue to attract – and thus not obstruct – young talent. One reservation is the source of the article; a single piece from a hitherto unknown (to us) journalist does not constitute evidence of objectivity. Nonetheless – and not least given Pozzo’s unquestionably strong record in, you know, running football clubs… reasons to be optimistic, before one even considers the devil we know.
The other issue of great concern, however, is the mooted change in management. Indeed, several of a group associated with a less than glorious period in West Ham’s recent history – Gianluca Nani, Scott Duxbury and Gianfranco Zola – have had their names linked with recent developments.
It’s the name of Zola that stands out. A likeable public persona and allowances for the challenges he faced as manager at Upton Park don’t outweigh limited experience – at any level. And, of course, the fact that the present incumbent has done a rather good job in these or any circumstances, thank you very much. As an indicator of Pozzo’s familiarity with the club that he’s buying, this isn’t great… the connotations of a high-profile former Chelsea striker and Italian international being installed as manager shouldn’t have been lost on Pozzo, it’s a concern that his name was leaked so early.
Commenting as airily as this is low risk, of course. We can’t affect anything very much, and the likelihood is that everything will have changed by the time you finish reading this article. For the moment, we’re cautiously optimistic.
But ask us again tomorrow.
End of Term Report Part 8 07/06/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Must… keep… going…
32- Jonathan Hogg
I must confess to having been a little apprehensive about the signing of Jonathan Hogg. For one thing, coming on the back of the recruitment of Carl Dickinson the significance of Ian Woan’s testimony was clearly prominent – he had overseen the training sessions of both during loan spells at Pompey. Not that Woan is necessarily a bad judge of a player, but it always concerns me when a new manager moves in with a vanguard of former charges, as if there’s only one trick he knows how to pull… for every Aidy Boothroyd, who pulled this off successfully, there are five Gordon Strachans. Another concern, much as Hogg’s quality was immediately apparent, was that he seemed like a solution to a problem that didn’t really need solving, John Eustace and Ross Jenkins more than adequately covering destructive responsibilities in central midfield. Any lingering reservations were dispelled by the time Eustace and Hogg switched roles, with the new boy able to revel in the defensive sitting position. Quickly you were left with the feeling that we were playing a computer game on too easy a level, or had somehow obtained a “cheat”, a ball-seeking missile that could be launched from the back of midfield at will, decimating everything in its path. The magnificent story, recounted at one of the excellent “At Your Place” evenings (that OK, Rich?), of Hogg persuading Alex McLeish to sell him to us at an affordable price by kicking lumps out of his soon to be ex-Villa team-mates in a training session was very believable. Not that his role was purely destructive… miserly with possession, he almost seemed to enjoy the challenge all the more, the narrower the spot he found himself in. If there’s a criticism it’s that he faded a little in the second half of the campaign… had the first and second halves of the season been reversed, he’d surely have been a shoo-in for a top three spot in Player of the Season. Nonetheless, the one cast-iron beyond-discussion success of Sean Dyche’s summer spending.
Next Season: More of the same. A goal would be nice mind, although he was never terribly close to becoming the first to score in 32 since 1999.
33- Nyron Nosworthy
Another one, if I’m honest, that I wasn’t sure about. It’s not that, with four defeats and eleven goals conceded in four games since Martin Taylor’s injury something didn’t need to happen. It’s just that it wasn’t obvious that Nosworthy was it… many of us will have remembered his most recent opposing visits to the Vic as part of a hapless Sheffield United back four. Nonetheless, Sunderland fans spoke highly of him, even eulogising his contribution to their time in the second tier. So it proved. Scarcely credible that we could lose Martin Taylor for so long and barely notice (except, perhaps, in his value as an attacking threat although Nos chipped in there too). Sunderland fans had also betrayed the confusing hankering for the simpler pleasures of the second tier that I certainly recall from both our seasons in the top flight… his Cruyff turns on the edge of his own penalty box, the sort that you really wouldn’t get away with against a Rooney or a Van Persie, were wistfully referred to. And there are certainly echoes of Keith Dublin or Ben Iroha… but only up to a point. Cavalier defenders are far more fun in retrospect. Nos is first and foremost a tough, solid, and largely reliable defender… not exempt from the odd wobbly performance. But if he was flawless, he’d still be playing in the top flight.
Next Season: First choice alongside Martin Taylor.
35- Tomasz Kuszczak
We’ve discussed the whys and was-it-appropriate’s under Scott Loach in Part 1. Putting that to one side, there is little doubt that Kuszczak’s contribution during his time at Vicarage Road was hugely positive for Watford. Hopefully for Kuszczak too, even if he didn’t achieve his stated ambition of making Poland’s Euro 2012 squad. A wobbly debut at home to Southampton had folk briefly worried, but he soon played himself out of the rustiness borne of nine months without a competitive fixture and became a commanding, reassuring presence. Without wishing to knock Loach, the difference in composure not just of the goalkeeper, but of the entire defence, was palpable, and as much a part of our strong late run (Kuszczak only played in one defeat after his debut) as Sean Murray’s devil at the other end of the pitch.
Next Season: Hopefully first choice somewhere for the Pole in goal. Would be nice to see him back, but on the assumption that he’ll get significantly more money elsewhere, żegnaj i powodzenia Tomasz. Just not Ipswich, eh?
37- Craig Beattie
Watford have done well out of loan deals over the years. I know I bang on about giving our kids a run, but a good loan can invigorate a squad, and I wouldn’t have wanted to see us without Cleverley, Lansbury, Helguson, Mutch over the past couple of years. 2011/12 has been a good a season as any in this respect, with a number of temporary signings (including Nosworthy, whose signing was made permanent having joined on loan) making a significant contribution. However Craig Beattie wasn’t one of them. He joined from Swansea shortly after Nosworthy arrived from Sunderland, but started one game in two months. He didn’t look terrible by any means, but it wasn’t altogether clear what he was supposed to bring to an attack that wasn’t short of tough strikers who didn’t run very fast. His performances didn’t suggest any great urgency either, perhaps because his eye was already on a return to Scotland.
Next Season: Released from his Swansea deal at the end of January he joined Hearts within the month as a free agent and scored the late penalty that saw off Celtic in the Scottish FA Cup semi final. It seems unlikely that he or Watford will give each other a second thought.
We’ve seen players come through tough periods before, win the crowd over. You can think of individuals as easily as I can name them. Difference is, a player normally has the occasion to recover his poise, recover his confidence, be it through a spell out of the side, on loan, or just hitting form or fitness. A manager doesn’t have that luxury… yes, he’s as susceptible to the vagaries of fate as anyone, but he doesn’t get to hide anywhere, doesn’t get to let any team mates take the strain. It’s very rare that a manager wins supporters over; a man under pressure invariably looks as if he’s clawing helplessly at a slippery slope, fighting something inevitable. Just a matter of time. So for Sean Dyche to recover from the early fans’ forum, during which he was face to face with any number of supporters who preceded their comment with expression of disappointment at the way the team was going, to ending a season, his first season, top half with an improvement on the previous year despite having lost, effectively, a four-man attack in Cowie, Graham, Sordell and Buckley during his tenure was truly remarkable.
I’m not knocking those who posed those questions, we were most of us feeling that anxiety. I’d been delighted by Dyche’s appointment, but largely because I expected him to continue in the vein of the management team he’d been a part of with Malky Mackay. I was hugely disappointed when he took a different path, but the very positive take from that is that here’s a man who knows his own mind and can deliver on it. Much harder than just carrying on using a pre-existing model, even given the player movements that in part forced his hand.
To bring the elephant in the room into view, I still utterly disagree with his approach to managing young players. To qualify that a little, I think he made a lot of mistakes last summer, when we signed Forsyth, Yeates, Mirfin, Buaben, Iwelumo, Dickinson, Garner and Hogg. Forsyth, perhaps, an inherited deal. But of those, much as the jury is still out on some and there’s scope for development in others, Hogg is the only unqualified success. And the cost of bulking the squad out with some rather average players, ultimately, in combination with the drop from seven to five subs, is that our kids got far less game time.
Since then, it’s fair to say, there’s very little that you’d quibble with. I’d have had Murray in the team earlier. I’m baffled at the treatment of Whichelow, but don’t get to see what goes on off the pitch. But there aren’t many individual selection decisions you’d query based on available personnel, Dyche played the loan market well and of course the results, ultimately, were pretty extraordinary.
But the strategy is flawed, and doesn’t fit our club in the longer term. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether the players we bought were adequate or not… year on year, unless something changes radically, we are competing with rivals within our division with bigger budgets. Much bigger, some of them. You’re talking about needing to turn up diamonds that others have missed, selling a vision too perhaps. Everyone else is trying that too, with a bigger budget. You might do well one year, get good value, find decent players, we all enjoy turning up an Andy Hessenthaler or a Mike Williamson from a lower division. But we won’t get away with that every season, we’re playing that game with a fundamentally weaker hand.
On the other hand, our record in youth development has few rivals, certainly not at this level. Harefield is something that nobody else has – although they will eventually. We’re ahead of the game there, and it’s something to be hugely proud of. Following the previous model – I won’t call it Mackay’s approach, since it surely wasn’t just down to him – these kids were getting time on the pitch. And sure, they weren’t all going to be ready. And sure, our form wobbled a bit at the end of 2010/11 (although not as badly as results or some rather inaccurate reflections would suggest). But ultimately the kids are better equipped as a result. You’re not telling me that Lee Hodson isn’t a tougher, more resilient, more experienced player based on coming through his experiences last season?
Most of all, we weren’t just talking the talk. Lots of clubs at our level claim – and intend – to base their team on youth development. We were actually doing it, demonstrably. We had loads of kids in the team… you know the stats as well as I do, and you’ll also be aware that in stark contrast only Bond and Assombalonga had debuts last season, whilst many of those that had been involved were marginalised. The route to the first team for those talented enough is a real competitive advantage for a club like Watford, and this is a battle we’re much better equipped to win than the bunfight for second tier players in the transfer market. If you’re Sean Murray, comparing a place with a Prem club several years and loans away from the first team to regular involvement and development and Watford, you have a decision to make. If what’s on offer at Watford is a more “careful” approach, you don’t.
I would have preferred to have seen more quality and less quantity last summer, and it will be interesting to see what this summer’s dealing brings. There’s no doubt that we have a hugely talented, likeable, honest and single-minded manager who has built a tough, robust side in his own image. Improving on this season’s performance will be a challenge, but with a strong base and Murray’s box of tricks up front, it’s not beyond us.
Enjoy the summer. (Oh, you are…)
End of Term Report Part 7 04/06/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
26- Britt Assombalonga
Unusually, but not uniquely, amongst home-bred youngsters, a season of dramatic progress for Britt. Having made the bench for the QPR pitch-invasion game, Britt appeared on the fringes of first team involvement with Massey and Whichelow just two young attacking players apparently higher up the pecking order. Two prolific loan spells, at Wealdstone and Braintree, thrust him into the spotlight and Sean recalled him from Braintree to involve him in the first team. In all honesty, he doesn’t look ready yet; quick and powerful, he’s also extremely raw. Bullied out of his debut against Coventry by experienced defenders, he struggled to make an impact in three subsequent outings. His non-league exploits suggest more to come, however, and in becoming the landmark 50th Academy graduate to debut in the first team (albeit definitions and qualifications rather blur around the edges) he drew attention to the club’s proud record of development.
Next Season: Rumours have already surfaced of an extended loan to the lower divisions, which sounds eminently sensible.
27- Gavin Massey
With Gavin Massey having been in or around the squad for three seasons now, it’s easy to forget that’s he’s still a teenager. Ross Jenkins suffered and suffers from similar assumptions that a boat had somehow been missed simply because he’s been involved for a while without ever quite establishing himself, overlooking his very young age at his earliest involvement. Nonetheless, we’re still waiting to be wowed by Massey at some point, expectation heightened by earlier rumours of Liverpool’s interest, and it hasn’t quite happened yet. Quick, nimble and tidy without being razor-sharp or prolific, it feels as if he still needs to establish what sort of player he’s going to be. This season saw most of his action come on loan, first with Yeovil and then in an interrupted spell at Colchester under John Ward; his recall, in the wake of Troy Deeney’s hamstring injury, saw him provide by all accounts the silver lining of another tedious afternoon at Selhurst Park before heading back to Essex.
Next Season: Out of contract next summer, the return of the seven-sub bench should benefit Gavin as much as anyone; hopefully this will be the season that he establishes himself.
29- Adam Thompson
This is the test case, really. We’ll get on to the season-long and rather exhausted debate about use of kids in general terms in the final section of this review… but if Sean’s argument, that young players were being brought on too quickly and needed to be developed more carefully, is to hold any water then there has to come a point where you say “OK, he’s done that, ticked every box, looked excellent wherever and whenever he’s played. Now let’s get him in the team”. After a hugely impressive first season, or half-season, of involvement last term Thompson spent much of this campaign on loan at Brentford over two spells. In between he made the bench for the Bradford cup tie, but not onto the pitch. Thoroughly convincing at Griffin Park by all accounts, there are obviously no shortage of obstacles to a slot either at right-back (where his League action has been so far) or centre back (where he has played for Northern Ireland and where he’s surely destined to establish himself). But now he needs that opportunity. He can’t do a lot more with what he’s had, journeymen squad-fillers are only defensible if they’re not blocking the path of someone who’s ready.
Next Season: We’ll hopefully see a lot more of Adam in the coming campaign.
30- Jonathan Bond
Based on one-and-a-bit appearances, and allowing that I missed the “bit”, there’s not a whole lot to say. Bond looked positive and confident against Bradford, one mighty punch setting up the break from which Craig Forsyth scored the game’s most memorable goal. But, you know, one game. It’s stuff off the pitch that says more about Bond’s prospects. Because Bond started sixteen games for four different sides last season… not half bad for an eighteen year old goalkeeper (he turned 19 in mid-May). It’s one thing taking a teenage winger or striker on loan, quite another to take, and trust, a goalkeeper. Scott Loach went out on loan regularly as a youngster of course, but he was an exception rather than the norm, and a very decent young keeper himself. Bond was trusted by three different clubs at sequentially increasing levels, which should be hugely encouraging.
Next Season: The goalkeeping situation seems to be in a state of flux at the moment; Gilmartin out, Kuszczak gone and (one assumes) not returning, Loach’s tenure far from secure. Bond should expect to be backup at least, but perversely would probably be playing less football as a result.
31- Tom James
Just odd, really. Odd and incongruous. We’ve again not much to base a judgement on of course… five competent enough minutes (plus added time) on the left of midfield in that Bradford game, one can only assume that he didn’t quite do enough. But to take the bold step of giving a young lad from a much lower level a contract… I’m not knocking it, not at all. But it seems rather out of character for Sean to be taking such risks (albeit James didn’t end up getting much action). There are many adjectives – positive ones – that one could (and I will) use to describe the manager’s first season in charge, but “cavalier” and “romantic” probably wouldn’t be near the top of anyone’s list. Giving James a contract was both.
Next Season: We’ll gain an insight into quite how optimistic a punt James was by the level that he drops back to.
End of Term Report Part 6 31/05/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Over the crest, all downhill from here…
21- David Mirfin
The accepted wisdom, of course, is that Mirfin is a bit of a duffer. Given a few games (four, all defeats) in the wake of Martin Taylor’s injury he certainly didn’t stake a strong claim with the result that Nosworthy’s signing wasn’t long in coming. Packed off back to Scunthorpe on loan in January that would appear to have been that. Except that by all accounts Mirfin impressed again at Glanford Park, contributing to Alan Knill’s side pulled away from the bottom of the third tier. Yeah, OK, only the third tier. But he’d looked very decent in the second tier against us last season too. My theory is that Mirfin, in the model of the likes of Gavin Mahon, for example, needs to be playing to maintain his fitness – he’d looked slow during his run in October. Which means he needs to be playing for a side in which he’s going to be a regular starter.
Next Season: No doubt with half an eye on Aidy Mariappa’s future, Sean has reportedly informed Alan Knill that Mirfin will be with us next season. It would be… inconsistent of the manager’s approach thus far were he to go into next season with only two experienced centre-backs. I’m yet to be convinced that a backup role suits Mirfin.
22- Sean Murray
Well, where to start. Actually… I’ve sort of written this piece already this summer, albeit in rather more words. And what more do you need me to say? It could be argued with some justification that Murray should have been introduced earlier to a side desperate for creativity from wide positions. Whatever. He came in, he was instantly vital in every meaning of the word, and the clock is already ticking.
Next Season: Sean will be an absolute star. Next season could plausibly be his only full season in yellow. Let’s enjoy it.
23- Piero Mingoia
What do you say, on the basis of no match action? Piero had a bit of first team involvement under Malky Mackay and looked neat and tidy but possessed neither pace nor physical presence. You feared for him, frankly. A loan to Brentford in January was quietly brought to a premature close without any suggestion of first team involvement at Griffin Park; he spent the end of the campaign with relegation-bound Hayes and Yeading United in the Blue Square Premier forming an unlikely midfield partnership with Jamie Hand.
Next Season: I wrote a year ago that Piero needed to either be better at what he does well, or work on his (largely physical) deficiencies. We’ve been given no evidence of either. Out of contract next summer, another for whom this will be a make or break season. Has a lot of convincing to do, one suspects.
24- Matt Whichelow
I don’t think anyone would have predicted that. Involved in 20-odd games last season, almost all of them to positive end, Matt was one big reason to be cheerful this time last year, a reason to look forward to the new season. Positive, clever, inventive, with a couple of stunning finishes suggesting a poacher’s touch, this was the season in which Matt should have established himself in the first team squad. Instead, by all accounts, Matt came back from the summer… suggesting a rather lackadaisical attitude. Dismay at his being loaned out to Exeter and Wycombe was tempered by each loan ending prematurely and ingloriously – albeit the bottom end of the third tier isn’t the easiest place for a young attacking player to make an impact. A bubbly fifteen minutes at London Road was like hearing a song that you used to like but hadn’t heard for a while.
Next Season: One can only hope that Matt gives it some welly this summer. If he doesn’t, he’s an idiot and we’re maybe better off out of it. If he does, he might just remind us all of what we were missing last season.
25- Joe Garner
My Dad is convinced that Joe is about to embark on a goalscoring spree. He’ll argue this until he’s blue in the face. He’s been convinced of this all season. It hasn’t happened yet. Signed by Forest from Carlisle for a decent fee, Garner never quite established himself at the City Ground and it’s not difficult to see why; he’s not quite anything really, he doesn’t perform any job well enough. Clearly not a goalscorer, despite the feeling in Dad’s water, and despite his scoring record at Forest not being quite as non-existent as at Vicarage Road. Kind of creative, occasionally has a game where he’ll look like a reasonable foil but isn’t clever enough and doesn’t do it often enough. Has games where he runs himself into the ground but again, has games where he disappears so he’s not a workhorse. Most of all he’s just not very likeable, and his willingness to take a tumble over tackles has become an in-joke. Would be funnier, or easier to tolerate, if like previous Watford players with such a proclivity, there was a positive contribution to go with it.
Next Season: Garner has remained involved in matchday squads despite his inconsistent impact, but it’s inconceviable that he’ll remain as involved without contributing rather more.
End of Term Report Part 5 28/05/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
The Euros are coming, so I need to get a jiggy-on. Here goes…
18 (#1) – Andi Weimann
Such a long time ago that his three games in September almost feel like a hangover from the previous campaign; he joined for half a season, was injured initially and then started three games, none of which ending in defeat, before being recalled by Alex McLeish to cover injuries at Villa Park. In as much as it’s possible to distinguish his performances this season from last, Weimann came across as industrious, physically and emotionally resilient, and unselfish, perhaps too unselfish. His departure felt like just another source of flux as our forward line redefined itself.
Next Season: Weimann’ s involvement in Villa’s side in the spring owed a lot to injuries; it would be a surprise to see him start the new campaign as first choice. Nonetheless, his future is clearly at the top level, and we shouldn’t expect to see him back at the Vic any time soon.
18 (#2) – Michael Kightly
Even on the strict understanding that this was only a month to gain match fitness, even after an awfully long time out with injury, the signing of Kightly was a coup. One of Wolves’ key men in their promotion campaign three years earlier he had attracted plenty of interest from more established Premier League clubs, but a succession of injuries kept him off the pitch and moved him out of the limelight. At Watford, even after securing his loan we got lucky. That initial month was interrupted by injury, causing Kightly to miss four games (including the pivotal win over Peterborough). Had it not been, it’s questionable whether Wolves would have extended the loan and whether we’d have had the chance to see him play himself into devastating form. Encouraging but bitty during his first month, his subsequent month-and-a-half were an absolute joy, culminating in memorable goals against Leeds and Doncaster at Vicarage Road. Back at Wolves, he was one of few Wolves players visibly swimming against the tide in their calamitous exit from the top flight.
Next Season: Ståle Solbakken may be virtually new to English football (he did play half a dozen games for Joe Kinnear’s Wimbledon), but by all accounts he’s not an idiot. Expect to see Kightly leading the charge at Molineux next season.
18 (#3) – Alex Kacaniklic
Less flamboyant than Kightly, Kacaniklic nonetheless had an indisputably positive impact on the side on his arrival from Fulham. In part his degree of impact betrays our paucity in wide attacking areas, Murray excepted… a threat on both flanks is so much more potent, so much harder to defend, than a one-sided opponent. Tidy, assertive and occasionally frightening, it’s that “occasionally” word that’s the slight blot. It’s not that Kacaniklic ever played badly, or even that he disappeared particularly… it’s just the suspicion that there was a little bit more that he had to give. Nonetheless, a significant benefit when we had him and a loss when, aggravatingly, he was recalled shortly after the close of the loan window.
Next Season: (“We’ll just call you…”) Alex was given a smattering of involvement at Craven Cottage; given the activation of the recall clause, it would have been all the more irritating had he not. Nonetheless, you’d be surprised if, with competition in wide positions from Kerim Frei amongst others, he was more than a fringe player at Craven Cottage next term. Another loan, to a Birmingham or a Leicester, a side expected to challenge, feels a safer bet.
19- Prince Buaben
“Biscuit”, “Bobbins”, “The Prince”… a man of many nicknames and mispronounciations, Buaben was largely withheld from the side for the first couple of months of the season but involved almost continuously from then on. His initial impact, with the Hogg/Eustace midfield struggling for an outlet, was wholly positive – his first start was that game against Peterborough, and we looked a whole lot more dangerous going forward thenceforth. Nonetheless, the jury is probably still out on balance… neat, tidy, clever, Buaben nontheless participates in good performances rather than driving them as you hope an attacking central midfielder might and one goal from twenty-odd starts isn’t a great return. He’s likeable though, you want him to do well; his versatility is clearly an asset, and the team does seem to function rather better with him in it.
Next Season: With competition for a midfield slot presumably destined to increase with the return to fitness of Stephen McGinn, Buaben will need to become a little more assertive. Flexible option to have on the bench, though.
20 (#1) – Marvin Sordell
My five year-old daughter got her first season ticket this season, a half-season effort. Her first game of the season had had a build up; 45 minutes of a pre-season friendly was one thing, but we all know that the first “proper” game is a decisive thing. Fortunately this was Peterborough, and the image of Rachie standing on the barrier screaming “Come on, Marvin!” as he lined up the penalty will stay etched on my memory. So… Marvin’s departure three months later took a bit of explaining. Wide-eyed wobbly disbelief (“So… he won’t be playing for Watford any more?”) gave way to pragmatism within thirty seconds (“I’ll just have to choose another favourite player, won’t I Daddy?”). What Bolton will have discovered, of course, is that they have signed a striker of colossal raw ability without always having the (on-pitch) discipline that makes a player an effective part of a team. This season he was the focal point of our attack simply because he had to be… quick, aggressive, our one reliable threat capable of finding a goal from nowhere and often picking things out for others, there’s still no escaping the fact that attackers of far less natural ability looked an awful lot more effective after he left (although the Murray factor is difficult to standardise for). Significantly also, the starkest indicator of the rebuilding job that Sean had to do, he was the final part of what was a plausible attacking four last season to be sold or move on within two transfer windows.
Next Season: Do you remember how Arsenal always looked better without Ian Wright in the side? I’m sure Sordell wouldn’t mind the comparison or the career that Wright enjoyed; nonetheless, it’s significant that Arsenal didn’t win a League title with Wright until he was virtually on the way out and barely involved in 1997/98. Whatever… Sordell will nonetheless score loads for Bolton next season. Would have been more interesting to watch what would have happened had they stayed up.
20 (#2)- Marcello Trotta
Rarely can there have been as large a contrast between the clamour for a signing and the damp squib when he actually arrived. Like an orchestral drum roll building up to a whoopee cushion. Trotta arrived on loan following a prolific spell with Wycombe in League One. He played an hour of the mauling by Southampton at Vicarage Road without either pulling up any trees or looking completely awful, was subbed, and that was pretty much that. He was an unused sub for the next three fixtures during which we managed rather well without him – two wins and a good point at Upton Park – and he returned to Fulham to rather less of a fanfare than he arrived to.
Next Season: Trotta got a minute of Premier League action at the end of last season – surely the briefest top flight involvement of the campaign- but it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t altogether convincing in training at Vicarage Road. Will need, one assumes, to do better.
End of Term Report Part 4 24/05/2012Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
It’s still only May. It’s still only May….
13- Rene Gilmartin
Not an altogether surprising development, Rene’s release. It could be argued, with some justification, that he didn’t get much of a crack at the first team. It was suggested, by those that were there, that he bore limited culpability for the heavy defeat at St Mary’s in his last outing for the Hornets. But the fact that he got such a brief run after Dyche took the step of dropping Loach suggested that there wasn’t a great deal of confidence in him, either. From the point where he joined Yeovil in November, ostensibly our backup keeper moving out on loan, recall clause or otherwise, the writing was on the wall.
Next Season: Rene will leave Watford at the end of his contract. Having earned some praise for his performances at Yeovil and Crawley, you’d hope and expect that he’ll get a deal with a lower division side.
14- Ross Jenkins
Here’s the thing. Ross Jenkins is clearly a very talented young midfielder. Tough, disciplined, with a bit of an evil streak, and the suggestion of versatility in his later performances under Malky Mackay. Here’s the other thing. Ross didn’t start a game last season after mid-August. Injuries, as ever, interrupted his involvement but with two combative central midfielders impressing in the first team it’s unlikely that a clear run would have seen him much more involved. This state of affairs would not have seen credible three years ago at the end of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, but Jenkins has started scarcely as many games since as he did in 2008/09.
Next Season: Still only 21, Jenkins is too good a player to write off; he has ten years on John Eustace, and Hogg will attract suitors. The question is whether he is satisfied with his present lack of involvement.
15- Stephen McGinn
What is there to say, really? As you were. Above and beyond the length of the injury, a particular blow must have been not making it back to fitness in time to play a part. Psychologically, just getting onto the pitch however briefly would surely have indicated that Stephen was back. Now he goes into pre-season without that boost. His competitive return will now be a minimum of eighteen months after the injury at Doncaster.
Next Season: In Stephen’s absence, his impressive final six months of action have been talked up and expectation will be high at the start of next season. After such a long absence, however, the question is to what extent it’s reasonable to expect Stephen to come back the same player.
16- Michael Bryan
Michael Bryan, in retrospect, was almost a caricature. A classic young winger with stereotypical good bits (quick feet, crowd on their feet) and bad bits (no strength on the ball, limited end product). He had a couple of not entirely convincing bursts of first team action but his last senior action came in November 2010, and a half-season loan to Bradford saw him uninvolved from early November onwards. His release was not a surprising development.
Next Season: Given his lack of physical presence and, frankly, bottle, it’s difficult to see what Michael’s level is. Abroad, perhaps, rather than down the pyramid where a more physical competition really wouldn’t suit him.
17- Dale Bennett
A quite extraordinary season for Dale Bennett. On the face of it, a bit of a disappointment; after a reasonable amount of involvement last year, despite the unshakeable obstacle of the Mariappa/Taylor centre-back partnership, the signings of Mirfin and then Nosworthy seemed to push Bennett back out of sight in the pecking order. He was loaned to Brentford in January but it was Adam Thompson, loaned to the Bees earlier in the campaign, who went to Griffin Park for the rest of the season at the end of the transfer window. Bennett then played twice for the first team; a couple of minutes on the wing - on the wing – at the end of the mental win over Burnley. And West Ham. And that hour at Upton Park might have rescued Bennett’s Watford career. Bennett has looked impressive in senior action before, but had blotted his copybook with a suggestion of nerves and the odd error. Cast firmly back in the limelight at Upton Park thanks to Nyron Nosworthy’s illness, Bennett was an absolute monster for an hour in a pressure, high profile game before being forced off with injury, a tour de force eclipsed only by Sean Murray’s impudent goal. One hour of first team action in anything like his preferred position, and your perspective changes altogether. A week or two later, Martin Taylor – who came off the bench to replace him – would have had the start and Dale’s outlook would have been completely different.
Next Season: If Mariappa leaves, Dale is the quick option at the back. Out of contract in July 2013, it’s make or break next season.