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End of Term Report 2023 – Part 7 05/06/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

37- Matheus Martins

A few questions here.  The first is moot, I guess, as the last decade should have told us but I’m still curious.  “Whose player is he?”…  Udinese, most of the internet agrees, but no mention of a loan on the official site (although “signed terms with Watford” is a little nonspecific).

More significant really is “what the hell happened?”.  Martins’ half-a-dozen appearances, all on top of each other after his January arrival from wherever-on-paper-but-Brazil-in-practice betrayed a player who was raw as hell, yes, and made quite a lot of iffy decisions but was also fast and aggressive.  He could cross a ball and most of all he had some oomph, one of several qualities sorely lacking elsewhere in the side.  If he wasn’t ready he wasn’t ready… but not to even make the bench?

Maybe there was an injury or injuries that I forgot about, but Martins last featured on Valentine’s Day and was last named in a matchday squad six days later.  At the end of March he was scoring a hat-trick for the U21s, but didn’t reappear in the side despite our lack of options and obvious desire, for instance, to reduce the reliance on the even younger Yáser Asprilla.

Next Season:  Your guess is as good as mine.

39- Edo Kayembe

I was never really into American Football. Chess with violence. I was into staying up with my Dad and watching Channel 4 coverage whilst drinking Murphy’s.  I don’t know why Murphy’s was involved.  I was also into a console game…  I’d struggle to tell you which game, though John Madden may have been involved, or even which console.  But I distinctly remember the animated player icons moving almost entirely unlike any humans I’d ever seen… slowly, diagonally across the pitch but mostly sideways, but absolutely impossible to knock over like very slow juggernauts.

You’ll have spotted where this is going, which is probably a little unfair.  If Hamza Choudhury got some leeway for having to make the best of a midfield partner to whom he was completely ill-suited then it’s only fair to offer his partner in crime similar leeway.

But Kayembe too disappeared from the side, a calf strain keeping him out after mid-November.  On Slaven Bilić’s arrival we briefly saw a suggestion of a bolder, more progressive midfielder but to be honest the previous version wasn’t a terrible player – just not someone to field alongside a midfield destroyer if you’re serious about putting sides under the sort of pressure that might have fuelled a proper promotion bid.

Next Season:  Getting Edo fit would appear to be the first task.

42- James Morris

It’s been a tough couple of seasons.  You don’t need me to tell you that. A tough couple of seasons and a particularly tough last couple of months for a number of reasons.  It’s not a happy time to be a Watford fan, not if you step back and take in the landscape, certainly not if you focus on the things that are wrong (and sometimes you need to).

So thank heavens for James Morris, a green shoot pushing his way quietly but firmly through that barren landscape.  It’s not that any other way of doing things is wrong but…  there’s something earthy and virtuous about picking up a kid that someone else discarded and seeing him grow into a proper player.  Feels right.

And there’s nothing to dislike about Morris.  Positive, makes good decisions, puts a good ball in, defensively sound.  Called upon several times this season to stand in for (and occasionally hold off) Hassane Kamara, it’s already a startling realisation that he didn’t make his League debut until October.

Next Season:  Morris is steadily improving.  At some point he’ll plateau….  “this is as far as I go, lads, sorry”.  He hasn’t got there yet.

44- Wesley Hoedt

Still not quite sure what to make of Wesley Hoedt.  His career path suggests that I’m not alone.  He played two seasons as a more-or-less regular in Lazio’s first team in his early twenties as they secured consecutive kinda peripheral top half placings in Serie A.  Southampton paid £15million for him as, newly monied by the sales of the likes of Virgil van Dijk they started splashing out on big transfers for the first time, but weren’t terribly good at it.

Hoedt’s time at Saints was ultimately peppered by loans as his form never settled, the last of three back at Lazio – who he helped to the Europa League again but who declined to take up their option to sign him permanently.  We picked him up from Anderlecht and…  it’s still hard to tell whether he’s any good or not.  He arrived with Ryan Porteous as a new centre-back pairing and there was some relief at the “sorting” of this overlooked position in our squad until it became clear that we were still conceding goals.  Hoedt has a good passing range for a centre-back, he’s good in the air and he’s a bully.  His turning circle is alarmingly wide and slow however, and his decision making inconsistent.  He’s also at the centre of handbags at set pieces too often not to be the instigator of such things which… can work for you, but you’d rather it was allied with reliable defending which really would leave an opponent frustrated and liable to overreact to provocation.  Being left sided he’s probably Porteous’ natural partner and is almost certain to feature regularly if Valérien Ismaël persists with his hitherto preferred three at the back.  I just… wish there was a bit more determination there to maintain his highest level of performance.

Next Season:  27 starts and two red cards.


End of Term Report 2023 – Part 6 01/06/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1 comment so far

25- Leandro Bacuna

1979/80 was my “first” season.  I didn’t visit Vicarage Road until the very last day but by this time I was a devotee…  sucking up every page of every match programme and every piece of news that Dad would pass on. (His match report from the home draw with Sunderland in December:  “Dennis Booth got our goal.  Terrible game”).

Alan Garner, Andy Rankin and John Ward all started ten games that season.  Rankin and Garner were part of the old guard, veterans of two promotions but eased out by Christmas.  Ward had been an old charge of Taylor’s from Lincoln, top scorer as he’d got them promoted with a gazillion points.  He’d play for the Imps again before returning to Vicarage Road in a coaching capacity that was more impactful than his on-pitch contribution in the long run.

All three of these names are scorched onto my brain, for all that I never saw Garner or Rankin play, and Ward only the once in a 4-2 win over Cardiff the next season.  Perhaps some impressionable seven year old introduced to the Vic as crowds dwindled this season will reach fifty with Leandro Bacuna’s face still vivid in their memory.  Seems unlikely though, since his contribution… whilst never any less than competent, was never remotely memorable.  Retrieved from the scrapheap in December he was space filler, a holding pattern in midfield until players got fit and in that context he was as decent an option as we could have expected to find accessible and out of contract.

Next Season;  But it would be a surprise to see him rewarded with a longer contract…

27- Christian Kabasele & 31 – Francisco Sierralta

I don’t think that any position epitomises our current situation better than centre back.

For all that we were severely scraping around for options at one stage early in the season we have a reasonably large number of centre backs on our books, these having been gradually accumulated like snow globes across the last decade.  Some of them are tall, some of them are quick, some of them are physical, some of them are gobby, some of them stand in the right place most of the time.

It doesn’t matter as much as you’d think which of them are in the team, it appears.  Over time everything sort of averages out to the same sort of meh.  Over time.  It’s a bit like the pigs in animal farm who by the end of the book are indistinguishable from the humans they’re cavorting with.  William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta, once we settled on that partnership, was a defining constant of the promotion season of 2021.  They were very different players…  Sierralta a monster who would win every header, dominate every battle and relish the conflict.  Troost-Ekong the wise head alongside him.  “Kick that Francisco. Head that Francisco”.

Two years on… maybe it really is little to do with WHO is in the team and more the chaos that they’re navigating off the pitch?  Are WTE and Sierralta that distinct any more?  Yes, there were always concerns about WTE, yes Sierralta has been injured a lot.  But each now looks more similar to the other than to their original incarnations on arriving, and neither has formed part of a robust defence for a while.

As for Christian Kabasele, he’s no more or less dependable than he ever was, but was for several years a regular part of a passable Premier League defence.  His arrival in the side is generally a good thing simply because any failings will be energetically realised but in the right game – such as when captaining the side up at Sunderland where thought was redundant and reacting was everything – he’s tremendous.  As previously, being a good bloke is very far from everything but it is something.

Next Season:  It would be tremendous to see Francisco properly fit… out since January, he’s never played alongside Ryan Porteous.  That could be the most no-bullshit central defence we’ve had for a while.  Kabs meanwhile has a year left, it would be surprising if he didn’t see it out in much the ongoing fashion… disappearing from the team for a bit, reappearing just when you’d forgotten about him, having a run, doing kind of mostly ok except when he wasn’t then disappearing again.  Hurrah.

34- Britt Assombalonga

Britt Assombalonga left Watford as the Pozzos arrived in 2013 having scored a load of goals on loan at Southend.  He’d scratched together barely two hours of football over four games for the Hornets but earned us a seven figure fee nonetheless.  Peterborough made a vast profit on him within a year when Forest signed him for over £5million before themselves almost trebling their money three years later.

Throughout this period he scored a lot of goals, largely at second tier level.  Physical and direct, he looked every inch a decent Championship forward and if his eighteen months in Turkey was less prolific, his January signing looked like a decent one at minimal risk providing some much needed competition/cover for Keinan Davis and, no less, some Championship experience.

However almost one third of his league appearances – 111 out of 362 – have come off the bench and despite Watford’s form being flat, Davis’ own form being patchy and Britt scrambling a couple of goals (and setting a record in the process, his first Watford goal against Birmingham coming eleven years after his debut) he struggled to make a compelling case for a start with some willing and boisterous but ragged cameos.

When he finally got that start at Coventry it was curtailed after twelve minutes by the three hundred and twenty fifth hamstring injury of our season extending another unwanted statistic – eleven years and fifteen games in, Britt has still to complete a 90 minutes for the Hornets.

Next Season:  Given the scale of the rebuild and the lack of viable options up front in the current squad, a contract extension doesn’t seem completely out of the question… but another departure wouldn’t be a shock either.

End of Term Report 2023 – Part 5 29/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

19- Vakoun Bayo

Daughter 2’s evolution as a Watford supporter has been a joy to behold.  From coming to her first game – the pre-season friendly with Udinese in 2014 – wide-eyed and completely oblivious to what football was beyond it being something her sister did, and that she was allowed to do when she was five – through any number of replica shirts, studying of Watford annuals, gradually absorbing and engaging more with the game, asking questions, developing an enthusiasm for crossing grounds off. In the relegation season she made a vital step by discovering the balti pie.  This season she has made what might be the last, vital step towards lifelong fandom.  She has developed a overwhelming and utterly irrational dislike for Vakoun Bayo.

There are of course plenty of justifiable reasons to…. if not to dislike Bayo then to object to his presence anywhere near the Watford team.  There’s the uneasy stench of the association with Mogi Bayat for one thing, for which Bayo and his five-million-pound-tranfer-then-loan-back-six-months-later is a poster boy.  Then there’s his tendency to look like almost completely unlike a footballer, always on the verge of tripping over, controls the ball a quite extraordinary distance.

And yet.  Every now and again he looks fabulous.  Just briefly.  It’s a bit like that episode of “Billy’s Boots” in Roy of the Rovers when Billy Dane’s magic boots misfired leaving him floundering around alarmingly, a giraffe on rollerskates, but fitfully clicked back into gear with briefly startling results.  Bayo’s winner against Middlesbrough was deft and composed, his strike at Rotherham magnificent, his winner at Norwich brutal and tremendous.  Not enough, obviously.  But there’s something there.

Next Season:  A return, which would send Daughter 2 into frenzied outrage, seems unlikely.

21- Henrique Araújo

Back in 1988 I had unreasonable expectations of Stuart Rimmer, too.  Unreasonableness prevailed on my part, as the striker brought in from third tier Chester City in the March of that relegation season was held accountable (by me) to perhaps too great an extent for our travails.  A rewriting of history in the meantime has, after all, had to erase the fact that he was recorded at the time as being the division’s second highest goalscorer after John Aldridge (for all that 24 of his 25 goals had come for Chester).

Rimmer wasn’t good enough for the level we asked him to play at;   Aráujo, despite not even managing the single goal that Rimmer did, should play at a higher level than that.  But for all that there was clearly a player in there – lively, alert, nimble – he was perhaps lacking the explosive pace to compliment those attributes.  It speaks volumes that neither Slaven Bilić nor Chris Wilder saw fit to give the young striker much of a run;  indeed, Wilder only used him twice off the bench in eleven games and one of those occasions thanks to the injury that ended Assombalonga’s season but still didn’t shove Araújo into subsequent prominence.

Next Season:  Dunno.  Nowhere near Hertfordshire tho, one suspects.

22- Ryan Porteous

We’ve noted the relative paucity of sure things in this review so far so here’s an opportunity to take a pause, grab a drink, put your feet up and enjoy another box being ticked in the shape of a Roy of the Rovers centre-back.  There’s nothing not to like here… Ryan heads things that need heading, kicks things than need kicking, shouts at things that need shouting at and if in doubt does all three.

He’s a fine defender on top of that.  Not immune from an iffy performance which is probably just as well for the moment, we need to be confident of hanging onto at least one asset.  But an asset who has brought some leadership and focused violence to the team, both qualities previously and still lacking, is one we’ll want to hang on to for a while yet.

Next Season:  First name on the team sheet.

23- Ismaïla Sarr

Ah well.

I think it’s fair to say that you’d have gotten long odds on Isma still being here three and a bit years on in the wake of that game against Liverpool.  Let alone after two seasons in the Championship which, in fairness, reflects well on Sarr in at least one respect.  He will have had offers.  He had offers from the very top the first time, perhaps less obvious attractive but nonetheless top flight ones the second time.  He could have kicked up a fuss and forced an exit, he didn’t and was a major factor in our gaining automatic promotion in 2021, an outcome that still feels taken for granted despite last season’s demonstration of how straightforward messing up a strong hand can be.

The fact that he’s still here tells some of the story.  Not that he was never that good particularly… although his trajectory has been much flatter than was hoped or expected I’m sure.  More that the venom, the arrogance needed to make good on that ability hasn’t been evident enough. It’s there, buried deep…  witness not just the Liverpool game but also the impudent game against Reading two years ago, two ridiculous goals in a matter of minutes.

But too often that speed, strength and control has felt… held back.  Almost tentative.  And that’s a shame.

Which isn’t to say that the ability isn’t there, or that he has somehow “failed” at Watford.  The decision to sign him, to spend the money, hasn’t paid off for sure but it’s easy to be smart after the event, I was stupidly excited when we finally got him and 34 goals plus 29 assists over four seasons is far from disastrous.  Nor is the “lazy” accusation entirely fair;  occasional glimpses of Sarr’s character off-pitch merely suggest a very young, shy man.  The problem with this sort of gamble was that it going kind of OK-ish, the equilibrium by which all signings should be judged, wasn’t really an option.

Next Season:  It could be argued that this has lasted too long for both parties, without it being altogether obvious when the Right Time To Sell was.  The right time to leave, for Isma?  Surely on relegation in 2020; I remain convinced that as a smaller fish in a bigger pond he would have flourished.  That he’ll probably end up at somewhere like Palace or West Ham reflects the disappointment on all parts.

End of Term Report 2023 – Part 4 25/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

14- Hassane Kamara

Ultimately it’s the disappointment that inflates the problem here.  Amongst the charred embers of the previous season one of the few sparks that belligerently refused to die was this irrepressible left back who never stopped moving, loved a sliding tackle and was one of very few to find relegation staring him in the face and to stare straight back.

His Player of the Season award was fully deserved, even if the odd voice did preach “he’s not all that” caution.  At whatever point you had accepted relegation (and I suspect I was later than most), the prospect of Hassane Kamara in the Championship was a welcome one.  “At least that position’s sorted”, an often problem position at that and with a player who would surely rampage all over second tier flanks as he often had in the top flight.

It didn’t work out that way.  Perversely the player who stood out for rare commitment in the top flight began to stand out for the opposite reason in the Championship.  We did see signs of the buccaneering full back of last season but too infrequently, too undependably, to the point that various enforced spells of absence (including for an irresponsible red card at home to Millwall, one of the many contenders for the season’s low point) saw novice James Morris provide more reliable service.

Next Season:  The Football League are investigating the, um, favourable sale-and-loan back arrangement with Udinese – my guess, it feels wrong but won’t yet be against any rules.  Either way, little chance of seeing Kamara in yellow again, the second two thirds of his stay in Hertfordshire much less effective than the first.

15- Craig Cathcart

Craig Cathcart’s second spell at Vicarage Road has lasted nine years.  He is the club’s longest serving player and has played over 250 times for the club over that time, for much of which he has been Watford’s most reliable, unfussiest defender.

His contract is up at the end of the season and, as last year, he’s been slightly short of the guy who was effortlessly in the right place at the top of his game.  Only slightly, mind… he managed 26 starts despite the January arrival of a new broom in the middle of the defence.  Even at 34, you’d have him as a squad option, an experienced guy who has done a passable job as an emergency right back as well as being a solid backup in the middle.

Next Season:  ….however with no sign of a contract extension, that would seem to be that.  If that’s the case, Craig should leave with all of our best wishes.  One of the good guys.

16- Dan Gosling

I wasn’t convinced by the signing of Dan Gosling at the time, some two-and-a-half seasons ago (yes, really).   Reading back it seems that many others felt the same.  And yet his time at Watford has seen him give us rather more than he’s gotten back in return, all things considered – we very much got the better of the deal.

A committed midfielder.  A dedicated professional.  Someone with a knack for arriving late in the box and getting on the end of things.  Someone prepared to take issue with erstwhile teammate Jefferson Lerma, winning many doubters over very quickly.  A rare source of professionalism in a complacent dressing room. And this season if not exactly a makeshift right back – Gosling had played in the position earlier in his career – a sudden and apparent solution to The Problem, all the more surprising since someone who had increasing looked like he was running through treacle in midfield leading to a “hlhg!” consensus suddenly looked reborn hammering up and down the flank.

So of all the disappointments of the season, the ruptured tendon suffered by Gosling less than ten minutes before the World Cup break was the most choking, outstripping even Imrân Louza’s World Cup denying injury a month earlier.  You don’t, after all, come back from a ruptured tendon at the age of (almost) 33 with six months left on your contract… and this on the back of spending much of last season in the trash pile until we decided that we needed him after all.

Next Season:  The Athletic reported earlier in the year that Gosling’s contract had already been settled up. With a relatively low number of games in his legs for a 33 year-old, you’d hope he’d find another club when we recovers from his injury.

18- Yáser Asprilla

To finish off today’s instalment, another reason to be cheerful.  What’s not to like about a teenager who looks about five years younger than he is absolutely giving it some.  No, he’s not the finished article…  he needs to find some composure in front of goal, he needs some of whatever we fed João Pedro in the early years to toughen him up.

But he’s already fabulous.  Comparisons with JP are dangerous and unreasonable… but since we’ve started…  he’s two years and two months younger, so roughly the age this season that JP was in the promotion campaign two years ago.  For the Derby goal, see Asprilla’s ridiculous pass to release Kamara at home to Sunderland prior to Keinan Davis opening the scoring…  but it’s the angled through ball, the “triangle” button back in the days of Pro-Evo that’s his stock move.  It’s a Neal Ardley dumping the ball on the back post for a new generation, with any kind of forward line in front of him that’s already a potent weapon.

Next Season:  We probably played Yáser more than we wanted to or ought to last season – he featured in 37 of 46 League games – but that reflects his value as much as our crying need for a bit of magic.  More please.

End of Term Report 2023 – Part 3 22/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

10- João Pedro

This was how it was supposed to be of course.  The fuel that fed our establishment in the top flight was to be stuff like this…  and it couldn’t be more romantic.  A kid from Brazil, picked up not for peanuts but for far less than Fluminense realised they could have gotten for him by the time he was 18 with our interests protected by punitive default clauses.  And if he didn’t explode straight away (and still has some developing to do) his trajectory has been steadily upwards in defiance of the chaos that it has had to compete with.  Physically and mentally as well as his footballing brain…  he’s tough as old boots, and if his spell with the armband might have detracted from his performances it was no token gesture at the age of 21.  Now he moves on for a heatlhy profit and we go again.

It wasn’t supposed to be quite like this though.  There wasn’t supposed to be this sense, despite his growth, despite his many fine performances, of a wasted opportunity… of a fine poker hand spunked due to one drink too many, a muggy head.  And if a sort of “can I leave yet” dissatisfaction was never evident in his play (or, by all accounts, his attitude) there was a distinct lack of warmth in his briefest of farewell speeches on the final day.

He is already a fabulous footballer.  Probably the best player in the team wherever you chose to stick him – certainly his emergency cameos at the back of the midfield were extraordinary.  It’s just a shame that we so rarely had a coherent, consistent plan to build around him.

Next Season: By general consensus, Brighton is a good club for him to go to.  This reflects not just their flavour-of-the-monthness borne of a fine season (and an extraordinary, unparalleled win at Arsenal) but that this is somewhere where he’ll be a star but not the star… he won’t disappear onto the bench but he’ll have to push himself further to have an impact in a side that plays to his strengths (and, as an aside, has taken what was supposed to be our blueprint and done it better).  We benefit from the deal being done at the very start of the summer, whatever the destiny of the money.  It’s just…. you know.  Yeah.  Hrrmph.

11- Ismaël Koné

There’s something there.  As you’d hope and expect from a player who signed fresh from playing in the World Cup I guess.  Raw as hell but the World Cup pedigree was always a little misleading… Koné is 20, younger than João Pedro for instance, and arrived from Montréal with barely a season’s worth of senior football under his belt.  His Wiki page suggests that he’s had plenty of interest shown in him previously by clubs from different corners of Europe; nonetheless, not the finished article.

And on occasions he’s been pretty awful.  Not easy to hide a poor performance in central midfield, admittedly…  but some games passed him by, and others saw him struggle to tune himself into the pace of the game.  Nonetheless, there’s plenty there to be excited about…  athleticism, awareness, a good range of passing and a harpoon-like tackle.  He’s not there yet, but he has the potential to develop into a terrific all-round midfielder.

Next Season:  So it was profoundly disappointing to see him waving vigorously at the crowd as the team looped the pitch after the Stoke game, and to be reminded that his signing was always caveated with a planned move to Italy come this summer.  So… whilst it’s tempting to think along the lines of “JP and Sarr… to be expected.  But we can’t even keep rough diamonds like Koné”, the reality is that this was always on the cards.  Hrrrmph again`, nonetheless.

12- Ken Sema

Thank goodness for Ken Sema.  At the end of an underwhelming season – my co-editor has often identified the season following relegation as the most miserable – it’s reassuring to have at least one player who is indisputably a source of all things good.  As we’ve discussed already this summer there’s a stark difference in delivery between Ken in the Championship and Ken in the top flight.  Since we are in the Championship (and after perhaps Ken’s most prolific season in terms of creating goals) his barrelling runs down the left and his willingness to dig in remain invaluable.

He’s also a great bloke of course.  That’s a bonus, not a prerequisite, but it is a bonus.  Ken would have been my Player of the Season, given that JP didn’t really need my vote, had I received an invite .

Next Season:  More of the same please.

13- João Ferreira

So far so good, I guess, is the best we can say here.  Three useful looking appearances before his hamstring pull at Middlesbrough, I missed his brief comeback that spanned Luton and the first half of Huddersfield…  what little I saw suggested a positive, tidy upgrade on our previous right back options. The one caveat is that if Huddersfield (and his subsequent absence from matchday squads) was another injury, two in not very long is a slightly concerning start.

Next Season:  You wonder whether a young man brought into an unhappy camp and picking up at least one injury might be struggling to acclimatise.  If we do see Ferreira and Andrews as our two native options at right back next season, you won’t hear me complaining.

End of Term Report 2023 – Part 2 18/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

5- William Troost-Ekong

William Troost-Ekong is a great bloke.  This much, surely, is beyond dispute. Even were he not a Watford supporter, who celebrated scoring in the derby game in front of the visiting fans just as you’d hope that a Watford supporter would… he’d still be a great bloke.  Thinks about things.  Witness his “carbon neutral” loan transfer to Salernitana.  Proper leader…  witness the famous team meeting that he instigated a couple of seasons ago, and pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth.  You really want him to do well.

But he’s never looked totally comfortable in England.  Not even in his opening season, when he and Francisco Sierralta were the mainstays of a central defence that set records for miserliness…  even then doubts were expressed about his distribution;  at no point was he the first name on anyone’s teamsheet.

This season was an odd one for William;  Rob Edwards barely used him at all, Slaven Bilić then brought him in for ten games then ditched him again.  Significantly he always looked like being the fall guy when defensive re-enforcements were added and this may have been his doing, a player whose career has seen him move around a lot may simply have been ready for something else.

Next Season:  We got a decent loan fee from Salernitana by all accounts, and according to the January announcement will be due a further fee once his new club, as seems likely, confirm survival.  This despite injury preventing Troost from contributing much but nonetheless, his departure had a very final feel about it.

6- Imrân Louza

It goes without saying that this was a hugely disappointing season from Imrân Louza, who was supposed to be one of the players whose quality lifted us to the upper end of the division.  That it didn’t turn out that way certainly wasn’t his fault, at least not entirely his fault.  His start to the season was delayed by recovery from the summer’s op – he was never a selection option for Rob Edwards – and though he quickly fizzed and popped on his return to the side he only managed three starts before picking up an horrific injury that deprived him of a place in Morocco’s team (let alone squad) during their successful World Cup Finals and us of our best midfielder for four months.

When he came back…  well.  He can be excused, in the circumstances, for not being on top of his game straight away as we desperately needed him to be after a long, painful period with barely a midfield to speak of.  And he did manage five goals and a handful of assists in the half-a-season that he was permitted.  Nonetheless it’s difficult to read Chris Wilder’s comments in the WObby this week talking of petulance and indiscipline amongst Watford’s players (more than one) and not wonder “who?”.  I would choose to believe not Louza, who’s on the very cusp of the list of talented players that we might just hang onto.  But you can’t help but wonder.

Next Season:  The long period out, with less time to impress, might work for us in terms of our chances of keeping him.  A fit, firing Louza would be a hell of a weapon in the Championship.

7- Keinan Davis

Aaaaand another one.  Likely to be a recurring theme.  Will try to add some fun and positivity somewhere.

Keinan Davis was the great hope, of course.  Of all the forwards that we signed in the summer he was the credible one that made you think “yeah, maybe we’ve got a chance” on the back of rave reviews of his loan as Forest got promoted last season.

Perhaps the fact that Forest didn’t spend their Premiership income on extending his stay when they were pretty free and easy with spending money on everything else should have offered a clue.  It’s not that Davis is “bad”, far from it.  Felix put it best…  he’s an “almost” striker.  Almost a line leader.  Almost fearsome.  Almost.

There is, after all, nothing to dislike about a centre forward capable of ploughing through centre backs like a bowling ball through so many skittles.  His early appearances – following a prolonged search for fitness, which again was portentous – offered much encouragement and for much of the season he’s been our only credible centre-forward (without wanting to pull JP out of any of his many other roles).

But in common with the rest of the team his light dimmed.  Difficult to isolate cause from effect but either way. if that ferocious physicality never quite left his bullish mentality waned.  A centre-forward who’s scared to take a shot has limited appeal, much less one who struggles to stay fit.

Almost a great striker.

Next Season:  Seems unlikely either that Villa will finally promote him to their senior ranks at the age of 25, or that he’ll be back at Vicarage Road.  Reports this week suggest another (possibly permament) Championship move – a Stoke or a Bristol City feels about right.

8- Tom Cleverley

In so many ways Tom Cleverley’s 2022/23 season captured much of his Watford career.  The injuries, most obviously…  both sustained during games with Burnley (or, strictly speaking, in the warm up at Turf Moor in the second case). The achilles problem suffered in the home game and the thigh injury that curtailed his comeback at the 19 minutes he managed against Blackburn ruled him out for the vast majority of the season.

But the good things as well, less obviously given the brevity of his involvement.  That goal against Burnley, which decided one of only three defeats that the Clarets would suffer all season, was pure Tom… keeping calm, timing his run, placing a shot precisely but unfussily into the bottom corner.  Completely brilliant.

Then later in the season, as Chris Wilder was making not terribly veiled comments about the questionable attitudes of at least some of the squad, he mentioned as an aside in response to questions about blooding youngsters that (loosely) it was a shame that Jack Grieves was injured – Tom Cleverley rated him really highly.  So….  Tom is paying enough attention to have an opinion, and is deemed credible by a manager under whom he has never played, and who is demonstrably not one to suffer fools gladly.

Next Season:  I’m conscious that eight players in we still haven’t found anyone who’s nailed on to stay next year.  Nonetheless Tom’s contract expires imminently and it would be surprising if it were renewed, however much we can use as many sensible blokes as possible.  All the best Tom.

End of Term Report 2023 – Part 1 15/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Four today, four more Thursday and so on, until we run out of players.  Yes, this will take a while.

1- Daniel Bachmann

There have certainly been… concerns voiced about Daniel Bachmann.  Simultaneously, it is possible that he is an asset that could realise a couple of million quid in a summer that is likely to be more frugal than any since the Pozzo takeover in 2012.  These two considerations in tandem might point to only one outcome, but I’m not sure that would be a desirable one.

This season we had a squad boasting some very talented players who collectively underperformed due to, amongst other things, lack of leadership on and off the field, lack of character, lack of structure.  Next season quite a lot of that talent will have departed, many of the problems remain.  In that context…  Bachmann may not be Tony Coton, or even Heurelho Gomes.  He is flaky on crosses and makes the odd rash decision.  But he’s also an astonishingly good shot stopper, showcased by late-season home wins over Stoke City and Bristol City, not to be taken for granted. He’s also as close as the side has to a leader, he’s forthright and evidently motivated by more than just his pay packet.  One of the good guys, evidenced by his desire to engage with angry supporters at Blackburn, by his misplaced frustration against Wigan.

In which context, we should all be very happy to see him still here in August

Next Season:  One of the maybes.  I guess we’ll find out.

2- Jeremy Ngakia

There are things to like about Jeremy Ngakia.  Energy.  Bullishness.  A bit of determination.  All attributes that occasionally made him stand out this season through their relative rarity elsewhere.

Not enough, though.  Three years into his Watford career he’s no closer to establishing himself than he was when he arrived…  he’s still a youngster, only 22, but in a position that saw more custodians than the management seat this season (see! There’s a “cor Watford and their managers” joke you haven’t heard before, and I’m too far away for you to punch me in the head) he saw two players bought in to take “his” position only to be ultimately superseded by Ryan Andrews, four years his junior.

Next Season:  Needs a move, but may find himself in an unseemly queue of exiting right backs.

3- Mario Gaspar

Mario Gaspar suffered from the manner of his arrival.  After a bitty twelfth and final season at Villarreal, he made not only his first move away from Spain but also swapped clubs with the previous custodian of our right back slot.  This may have been a coincidence or may not, but it fed a suspicion of an opportunist grab – what, you’ve got an older one going spare? – rather than the much more comforting mental image of a carefully planned acquisition lined up at least eighteen months previously.

Had he arrived from Valencia, say, or Sevilla that suspicion might have been assuaged, but his slightly clunky early performances – kinda forgivable in context (see above) – would still have been an issue.  We really wanted Mario Gaspar to be either a gnarled veteran stepping into the team’s leadership void, or a rampaging wing back to suit Rob Edwards’ early requirements, or Marco Cassetti and for various reasons he has proven to be none of those things.  He’s been… fine, pretty much, more or less.  But as beige a footballer as I can almost remember.

Next Season:  One of a motley selection of right backs, it would surprise absolutely nobody to see Mario Gaspar return to Spain this summer.

4- Hamza Choudhury

Hamza Choudhury was a cool signing, on loan or otherwise. Distinctive, for one thing… “his hair’s f***ing massive”, as the song goes, which contributed to everyone knowing who he was for one thing, more so than if his look had not been quite so distinctive.  Indeed, tempting as it was to think of Choudhury as a relatively experienced recruit by virtue of the illusion of familiarity he’s played far less football than you’d think, far less than someone’s who’s been in Leicester’s squad for five years should have.  He’s never remotely held down a first team place before – indeed he’s already started more League games for Watford than he has for his parent club.

But it was very clear what he was for, and he did that job reliably well for the most part.  What changed mid-season was perhaps the relish with which he undertook his largely destructive duties.  He never smiled of course, but there was a vicious light in his eyes before Christmas whereas later it seemed that he was fulfilling a contractual obligation whilst questioning his purpose, and whether life ought to amount to more than kicking people (even as he continued to turn in steady 7/10 performances).

Next Season:  The narrowness of his repertoire is likely to limit the potential for a future Premier League career, but should Leicester drop (as seems quite possible at the time of writing) you’d fancy they might need him back.

Helping Hands 2022/2023 11/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

The thing about assists is… there isn’t really an unique definition.  No “official list”, no panel of ex-players formalising decisions as there is with goalscorers.  So… my definition is on the generous side, hence the numbers of assists below are higher than you’ll find elsewhere.  I would include a critical pass even if it were deflected, a shot which is saved and the rebound converted.  I’d also include being fouled for a converted penalty (unless the penalty were converted by the same player – you can’t assist your own goal!).   Other folks use meaner definitions.  They’re allowed to be wrong.

First point is… it’s a bloody long list.  Forget the assists, that’s just a lot of players.  41 is a massive roster by any standards – only Daniel Bachmann came anywhere near being ever present, 20 (Twenty!) have started fewer than ten games.  That tells a story on its own. Extrapolate the story of our season from those pieces of information alone and you wouldn’t go far wrong.

As for the assists themselves, little surprise that the midfield pairing that we were forced to field during the middle of the season, Choudhury and Kayembe, didn’t manage an assist between them but Ken Sema proudly tops the table.  Another story is told by the fact that he has 19 assists across two Championship seasons and only 3 in Premier League seasons (and one of those in a cup tie at Woking) but  Ken is a fine thing. His eleven assists were front loaded with 7 coming by early November and only three in 2023  but he remains as close to a dependable thing as the squad has and crowned his season with a fine pass to set up Keinan Davis on the final day.

Ismaïla Sarr scrapes second with barely half his tally from two years ago, whilst all 6 of JP’s assists came at Vicarage Road (his goalscoring more evenly split).   Imrân Louza’s tally is disappointing but reflects a season wrecked by injury – he may have spluttered in and out of gear on his ultimate return to the side but glittered in between the recovery from his summer op and his horrible injury at Millwall, including perhaps the assist of the season to set up the final goal at Stoke.

No debate about the best assist celebration of the season…  Mario Gaspar’s regular trundles forward might have only yielded one assist but it was a dramatic one in the last minute of the Vic Road centenary game against Middlesbrough.  His prodded, scuffed pass to Vakoun Bayo saw him end up on his back, beating the ground in celebration with both fists as the winner was converted.

Finally a glance at Matheus Martins;  his three assists in a handful of appearances constituted winning a penalty against Blackpool and then smashing the ball goalwards for Tobi Adeyemo to gobble up in the same game, followed by a corner converted by Ryan Porteous at Reading.  He looked raw…  but add a couple of shots off the woodwork and a willingness to commit players and you wonder why he was whisked from view quite so quickly.

End of Term Report to follow…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Sema 11 36+5 4 Bu (h), BiC (a), QPR (h), RU (a), SwC (h), CaC (a), CaC (a), HT (a), Bu (a), BiC (h), StC (h)
Sarr 7 36+3 10 SU (h), StC (a), NC (h), Rd (h), NC (a), WBA (h), HT (h)
João Pedro 6 31+4 11 QPR (h), Mb (h), Su (h), WA (h), HT (h), BrC (h)
Davis 5 27+7 7 StC (a), LT (h), WBA (h), CaC (h), StC (h)
Louza 4 16+5 5 StC (a), BiC (h), Su (a), Su (a)
Martins 3 4+2 0 Bp (h), Bp (h), Rd (a)
Kamara 3 30+2 0 Su (h), StC (a), LT (h)
Koné 2 14+3 0 BiC (h), BrC (h)
Asprilla 2 16+23 1 NC (h), WA (a)
Araújo 1 3+5 0 Rd (a)
Dele-Bashiru 1 4+2 0 HT (a)
Bayo 1 10+15 4 LT (h)
Troost-Ekong 1 14+3 1 Su (h)
Mario Gaspar 1 20+13 0 Mb (h)
Grieves 0 0+3 0
Adeyemo 0 0+4 1
Hamer 0 1 0
Adu-Poku 0 1+1 0
Blake 0 1+2 0
Assombalonga 0 1+10 2
Dennis 0 2 0
Okoye 0 2 0
Hause 0 2+1 0
Hungbo 0 2+7 0
Kalu 0 2+7 0
Ferreira 0 3+2 1
Pollock 0 3+2 0
Manaj 0 3+4 1
Cleverley 0 4+1 1
Andrews 0 6+1 0
Morris 0 7+7 0
Bacuna 0 10+5 0
Ngakia 0 10+4 0
Gosling 0 10+8 0
Hoedt 0 14+1 1
Porteous 0 17 2
Sierralta 0 18+2 1
Kayembe 0 20+2 0
Kabasele 0 21+4 1
Cathcart 0 27+2 0
Choudhury 0 36+1 0
Bachmann 0 45 0

Check out the 2021-22, 2020-21, 2019-20, 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

Watford 2 Stoke City 0 (08/05/2023) 09/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-   A much considered philosophical question demands, “if a tree falls down in a forest and there is no-one near to hear it, does it make a sound?”.

If a tree were to have fallen in the Graham Taylor Stand concourse at 2pm there would have been precious few folk around either to hear it, or to wonder quite how it got there.  Most sensible people have far better things to be doing with their time than getting to the ground over an hour early but such has been our routine this season: get in early, buy chicken and chips and a pint of Side Pocket, mooch around and chew the fat for an hour or so with Dad and whoever else is about.  Population density can be judged by how easy it is to find a space along the shelf at the back of the concourse.  No issues today.  Any number of trees, noisy or otherwise, could have slipped in with their own pre-match nourishment of choice without cramping anyone’s leaning space.

Watford’s difficult season is something most in the home stands are acutely aware of but unlike the sound of the falling tree it indisputably exists whether or not one chooses to bellyache it about it so quite why so many of the patrons seem determined to reconfirm its existence, as if failing to do so makes it even more real – the opposite of saying “I believe in fairies” to confirm their existence – is beyond me. Which isn’t to pretend that everything’s just lovely because of course it isn’t, and each to their own in terms of whether and to what extent one chooses to persist with it. 

But so many of the voices fail to reflect either any gallows humour (which can be dull, but less dull), or the possibility of the afternoon going well, or the fact that things could be and have been far worse.  Keen to give voice to the misery and to distance themselves from those accountable for it.  Not entirely consistent to sing songs about “since I was young” and “Watford ’til I die” and variations on the same theme and then act as if someone’s died when we finish mid-table in the Championship.

2- The match is preceded by a low-key awards ceremony.  Difficult to get the tone right of course, but hard not  to feel that apologetically slipping the voting form out less than a week before the game (and inconsistently so, I wasn’t the only one not to receive one) contributes to the gloomy narrative.  In an unsurprising turn of events the team’s stand-out player, Brighton-bound João Pedro, walks away with the Player of the Season award.  He’s only two months older than Young Player of the Season James Morris, but the rules governing such things have always been pretty fluid and nobody seems to object.  JP’s acceptance speech is polite and perfunctory, with the rather detached efficiency of a Christmas card from an accountant (I don’t have an accountant, or know many accountants to receive cards from but I’m guessing). 

By the time the match starts the stands are… still sparse, but not as sparse as that empty concourse had portended.  There is nothing as pedantic as a teenage daughter of course, and Daughter 2 witheringly reflects on the inaccuracy of my prediction at some length.  Our team selection sees a further thinning of the ranks, with Hassane Kamara joining JP in the out-tray, Yáser Asprilla (and Matheus Martins, irrelevantly) released for international youth-level duty and any number of others missing in action, presumed injured or bored or maybe wandered off while nobody was looking.  Ryan Andrews is of course tremendous, but what happened to João Ferreira?  Edo Kayembe, Francisco Sierralta, Samuel Kalu?  Good grief, Maduka Okoye?  You can’t play everyone of course and it’s a good thing, if hardly fulfilling optimistic expectations that Jack Grieves makes the bench, even if Adrian Blake being awarded the possibility of a League debut is odd.

Stoke City, meanwhile, inhabit that post-Premier League purgatory that we sense we’re being sucked into.  Every inch a Championship side, replete with nearly-weres (that’s you Dwight Gayle) and never-quite-will-bes, garnished with a bit of quality but not enough to cause offence.  There’s also the veteran star in the shape of Phil Jagielka – an impressive 40 (pushing 41), this was his 812th and surely final senior game.  He was being sent off against Watford (at Bramall Lane in the post-wage deferral game) before the younger members of today’s matchday squad were born.

3- The other marker of where Stoke are at is the level of excitement provoked in the away end by a scruffy little rat on loan from Bournemouth, for whom “sign him up” chants greet even wild slugs over the bar.  His first effort is a better one however, getting everything behind a right-footed drive from outside the box that is heading for the postage stamp before Daniel Bachmann intervenes.

This sets up an afternoon that is pretty much made for Bachmann;  our three-man central defence is utterly chaotic but energetically so, meaning that City both have a lot of chances but largely either rush them or take them from distance.  They’ll end up with seven attempts on target, all of them repelled by Bachmann who is troubled relatively little with crosses, since neither of the wide forwards Smallbone and Campbell are natural wingers.  Perhaps the closest they come throughout is through two rare such instances in the first half, neither troubling the “shots on target” counter… two balls from the left, the first reaching Smallbone flying in beyond Bachmann’s far post and shovelling narrowly wide, the second brilliantly intercepted by the keeper, flying forwards across the face of the ball’s path to steal it from the toe of Josh Laurent, who acknowledges the achievement with that highest of all praise, a tap on the back on the way back upfield.

The Hornets meanwhile are creating chances themselves at the other end where a slightly higher level of all-round competence is on show from both sides.  Imrân Louza will both start and finish the game strongly…  he expertly loads bullets for first Sarr and then Davis, the first with an evil through-ball that Sarr, inoffensively diligent throughout, screams onto before flicking a shot that is deflected wide, the second taken with his weaker right by Davis after hesitating with the initial chance as he will for much of the afternoon, more comprehensively deflected off target.

There’s an easy incompetence about the whole thing which, again, is characteristic of the middle of the Championship.  The half finishes goalless despite all best efforts to the contrary, our defending not least.

4- Stoke have brought a load of coaches and appear to have filled the away “end”, which is a very respectable effort in the circumstances and contributes to the fanciful official attendance of over twenty thousand.  Unsurprisingly they’re making a fair bit more noise than the lazily mutinous home stands but even this begins to fizzle out midway through the second half (the comedy highlight being “there’s only ten of you singing!” in mockery of a rare home chant, relayed by a maximum of ten members of the away end. If you’re the instigator of that chant realising your stupidity do you give up quickly and hope everyone forgets, or push on regardless?).

The scoreline being broken is preceded by two developments… the first the fitful chanting from the away end dying out altogether to lend the afternoon even more of the air of a pre-season friendly (but more so, since at least a pre-season game tends to feature players who will be seen again however irrelevant the outcome).

The second is a double substitution that removes Ismael Koné and Christian Kabasele and introduces James Morris and Henrique Araújo.  Koné has achieved the remarkable feat of more than an hour on the pitch in central midfield without affecting the game (or possibly touching the ball) at all while Kabasele, extraordinarily, has looked the least chaotic of our centre-backs but has received a knock – Wesley Hoedt appears to become the latest custodian of the armband.  Araújo will again look kind of useful but not quite right, which observation prompts the thought that this is really the best that can be said for any of the out-and-out strikers that we’ve employed this season and that maybe that’s a problem.

But the main consequence of the substitutions is a change of shape from 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 to 4-4-2.  It’s easy to read into the fact that we’re two goals up within ten minutes and never troubled again a tactical masterstroke and certainly we look more confident and effective, but in reality Stoke throw in the towel from the moment that Louza curls a lovely shot beyond Sarkic after Davis has scrapped to retain possession.  Four minutes later and a poor Stoke clearance finds Sema, whose wicked crossfield pass sets up Davis to once again take a shot on his weaker right foot, this time a helpful deflection off Fox taking it away from the keeper.  The game, to all intents and purposes, is over with a top-half finish (and finishing above Norwich) slim reward.

5- On the plus side, the kids are alright.  Grieves and Blake have little time to impress, but Ryan Andrews again looks the part (until he gets all excitable late on and sees an ambitious shot and an equally optimistic cross end up in the Rookery) whilst James Morris’ half-hour cameo involves a tremendous saving tackle on the edge of the box, and a Louzaesque laser-controlled humming knee-height pass that is bisecting City’s defence until a lunged limb deflects it out of harm’s way.

On the downside…  if few tears are shed at Millwall’s failure to make the play-offs then Sunderland’s ascent, with their late equaliser a week ago proving critical, demonstrates again that whilst automatic promotion was way beyond us, you didn’t really have to be hugely impressive to make the play-offs.   We’ve undersold ourselves dramatically this season, another six points was well, well within our grasp several times over.  Quite how expensive our inability to reach that target will be we’ll never know – a play-off place is only of ultimate value to one team in four after all – but we’ll get a feel over the next couple of months.  

Those who stayed long enough to witness the circuit of the pitch, wisely introduced as “a chance for the players and management to acknowledge the support”, saw a long goodbye from Sarr, and waves from Kamara and Wilder that left no doubt as to their departures.  Koné, oddly, was also vigorous in his gesturing to the stands which suggests either a more surprising exit or a young man keener than most to convey his appreciation.  As a horde of young Bachmanns and an even younger Sema took to the pitch in front of the Rookery, Daughter 2’s eye rolling finally had the desired effect and we exited the season.

Enough, frankly, said.  See you next year, obviously, and enjoy your summer.  All the usual summer stuff to follow on this Blog.


*Bachmann 5*, Andrews 3, Sema 3, Porteous 2, Kabasele 3, Hoedt 2, Choudhury 3, Louza 4, Koné 1, Sarr 3, Davis 2
Subs: Araújo (for Koné, 66) 3, Morris (for Kabasele, 66) 4, Blake (for Sarr, 86) NA,  Grieves (for Sema 86) NA, Bacuna (for Davis, 92) NA, Ngakia, Hamer

The List – 2023. 06/05/2023

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

The List.  Every player to have been linked with moves in or out since the closure of the January window. To be kept up to date until the closure of the window so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Ummm.  Quiet start isn’t it…. not altogether surprisingly…

* Indicates pla4yer linked in previous windows

Running Total: 12


Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo on loan from Roma)
Luke Chambers (Liverpool)
Evan Cadwallader (Newport County
Idris El Mizouni (Ipswich Town)   
Alexander Prass (Sturm Graz)    
Xavier Mbuyamba (Volendam)    
Nathan Redmond (Beşiktaş)      
Kauã Elias (Fluminense)       
Lucas João (ex Reading)*      
Cesare Casadei (Chelsea)      
Ethan Laidlaw (Hibernian)       
Alfonso Espino (Cádiz)                          


Ismaïla Sarr (Liverpool*, Manchester United*, Crystal Palace*, West Ham United*, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Milan)
João Pedro (Newcastle*, Milan, West Ham*, Brighton)                joined Brighton
Adrian Blake (Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea)                    
Harry Amass (Manchester United)                
Leandro Bacuna (Groningen)

2023   January
2022 Summer January
2021 Summer January
2020 Summer January
2019 Summer January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer