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Watford 0 Preston North End 0 (23/02/2008) 24/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Preston Thunks

1- Some days it just doesn’t bounce for you.  Had Doris scored his early chance, Preston’s impotence in attack suggests we’d have won comfortably – not until the last twenty minutes did a victory seem anything but inevitable. 

2- This is the Jobi McAnuff we thought we’d bought in the summer.  Funny how defenders knowing exactly what he’s going to try to do every time he gets the ball in a wide position – cut between two markers – doesn’t help them prevent him doing it.

3- The Duke didn’t have the best service, but this was a return to the lumpy displays of earlier in the season.   Collins John needs to work, as an option in such situations if nothing else.

4- JJ looking like a midfielder at last – rather than “just” someone with a happy knack of attacking the box at the right time.  Good stuff from the teenager.

5- Who was the mysterious man in a suit at half time, ambling awkwardly around like someone at the wrong wedding, or (ig’s suggestion) an art teacher occasionally peering over the shoulder of a bored pupil…?


Charlton Athletic 2 Watford 2 (6/2/2008) 17/02/2008

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

That thing what Matt usually does:

1. It’s all about the first goal. After a refreshing, revitalising couple of weeks, it’s disappointing to fall back into bad habits. For all that our first half play was positive and energetic, we neglected some of the basics; it doesn’t matter how well you’ve played if you’re two-nil down at half-time.

2. News just in: It’s not all about the first goal. The comeback was complete within a minute of it becoming a vague possibility…and, from there on, all a thoroughly entertaining game lacked was a conclusive finish.

3. The midfield options suddenly look rather attractive. After a shaky return to the first team, Al Bangura looks increasingly capable of living up to his billing: busy and assertive and aggressive, an ideal partner for John Eustace in these kind of fixtures…

4. …And for all that John-Joe O’Toole  still has to learn as a midfielder, it’s very much to be hoped that none of it detracts from his ability to ghost into the heart of the penalty area at convenient moments. He’s already scored more than Tamas Priskin.

5. Lee Cook with a sensible haircut. It doesn’t seem quite right. He’ll be tracking back and tackling next….

Watford 1 Leicester City 0 (12/02/2008) 12/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from Leicester

1- What a complete turnaround in terms of defensive resilience.  Wolves in the cup was just seventeen days ago…

2- Doris.  Inhuman.

3- The Rookery really is rather fun on nights like this.

4- That Ben Alnwick looks a bit useful.

5- That O’Toole misses Charlton is kinda convenient;  Saturday’s Eustace/Bangura axis was surely due a rerun in any event.

Ipswich Town 1 Watford 2 (09/02/2008) 10/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from Portman Road

1- Was there ever a more evil, bloody-minded and unplayable midfield than Eustace and Bangura?  Don’t.  F***ing.  Mess.

2- Dan Shittu.  Bang.  Bang.  Wallop.  Bang. Cramp?  Never heard of it.  Bang.

3- Steve Kabba, a magnificent cameo.  Would still be ferrying balls into no man’s land  up the right wing now, given half a chance.

4- Stephen Bywater.  The ability to kick a ball ought to be a fairly basic prerequisite for a footballer, even a keeper.  Few players have an opinion of themselves so far out of kilter with reality.

5- The cherry on the icing on today’s ample cake was the sound of snivelling observations from Suffolk’s finest on the way out of the ground.  In the face of defeat, fans of “footballing sides” so often seek refuge in perceived aesthetics, as if they should have been awarded goals for artistic impression.  The points being missed in this instance were that our midfield (see point 1) never allowed Ipswich to play their pretty football, and that we put together the best move of the game for the Duke’s goal.  Ipswich couldn’t mix it up, and that they’ve only won once on the road this season is no coincidence.

The January Hokey Cokey 03/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Another January, another shuffling of the pack – this year as last thirteen players have either arrived or left;  unlike last year, we look considerably sturdier for the experience which, given that Marlon counts amongst the departures, is somewhat remarkable.

That’s not to say that last January should be written off as a complete disaster.  The context was very different for one thing… already looking a bit forlorn at the foot of the table we were without one key player through injury and were in the process of auctioning off another.  Much as we’ve struggled for form of late we’re a much easier sell than we were twelve months ago, and in a position where much less is required to make a visible impact.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult at this early stage to come to any other conclusion than that Aidy has played a bit of a blinder over the transfer window.  We look sturdier and more balanced all round, with competition in almost every position.  I’m slightly concerned about the goalkeeper, and we’re perhaps still short both of variety in the middle of the park, and of leadership on the pitch, but we’re an awful lot further forward than we were.

The first action of January was the much heralded departure of Gavin Mahon to Queens Park Rangers, initially on loan.  In some ways I’m sadder about this than about the loss of King, perhaps since the move was clearly not instigated by a player who, fluctuations in form aside, has been a trooper for the duration of his time at Vicarage Road.

Having debuted under Gianluca Vialli as a lanky midfielder with a distinctive hairdo, he re-emerged after injury as a stocky, bald powerhouse.  At his best he was the driving force behind the team, never better exemplified than at Home Park at the start of the play-off season when his half-time introduction rescued the game and kick-started our season as he stomped all over the midfield.  Never a player who coped particularly well fitness-wise without a pre-season, his dips in form did seem to attract more criticism than they merited.  The decision to let him leave certainly demonstrated Boothroyd’s characteristic boldness – and he’d probably argue that he was doing the player a favour by being up front with him.  For a while, though, the decision looked horribly premature as the side struggled for direction in Mahon’s absence.  It may still prove so.

The first arrival, formally, was Lionel Ainsworth who saw his move from Hereford made permanent for the now traditional undisclosed fee (which, nonetheless, is rumoured to have broken the Bulls’ transfer record of £200,000 for Darren Peacock in 1990).  A swift turnaround for a player who was released by Derby County in the summer and Boothroyd has put the pressure on a bit with early comparisons to Aaron Lennon, but Ainsworth looks a lot of fun and can probably claim an influence in Tommy Smith’s remarkable recent form.

The next action of the window saw Jordan Parkes on the way to Brentford on loan, which in itself heralded the arrival of a new left back as competition for Jordan Stewart.  Parkes looks like he might be a player;  some first team experience should help him curb his occasional attacking excesses.

The following day saw further departures.  Moses Ashikodi got another chance to kick-start his career with a loan at Swindon Town whilst Anthony McNamee, having finally run out of such chances at Vicarage Road, also joined the Robins for a nominal fee.  There will no doubt still be people claiming that McNamee wasn’t given enough of a run, was underutilised and undervalued.  Ultimately, three successive and very different Watford managers thought differently.  It’s nearly six years since he made his debut – of the current squad only Lloyd Doyley and Tommy Smith debuted earlier – and in that time for all his occasionally eye-catching wing play McNamee neither created enough goals nor threatened to establish himself in the team.  He’s 24 now, and this move was long overdue – for his own benefit as much as ours.  Of all the departures, his might be the most interesting career to monitor.  I know what my money’s on, but I hope he proves me wrong.

The same day saw Calum Davenport arrive on loan from West Ham United, ostensibly to cover Danny Shittu’s enforced absence but also to provide an option in the longer term.  A very decent option he looked too, for all of forty minutes until fate and an unfortunate collision intervened.

Alex Campana, who looked like a player making decent progress in the League Cup earlier in the season, departed for Wealdstone on loan – a slight concern that at 19, Campana couldn’t secure a loan above the Ryman Premier; we shall see. 

The final week of January began with the first “new” permanent recruit of the transfer window, Mat Sadler arriving from Birmingham for £750,000.  This was obviously a hole that needed filling, with Jordan Stewart badly in need of serious competition for his position and more than a little uncertainty surrounding his long-term future.  On evidence thus far, Sadler looks like quite a different left back to Stewart – unflashy, solid and defensively reliable… and he takes a decent corner too, which is something we’ve been crying out for.  The only concern perhaps is why his parents chose to spell his name with a single “t”…

Four days later, the much trumpeted arrival of Collins John, Marlon’s heir apparent on a loan from Fulham until the end of the season with a view to a permanent transfer.  John’s signing echoes that of King in many ways… undoubted ability that, for whatever reason, hasn’t been fully exploited with more than a suggestion of excessive self-confidence.  If Boothroyd gets inside John’s head to the extent he did Marlon’s Collins John will be the signing of the season not just at Watford but in the second division as a whole.  If not… whilst a loan with an option isn’t a great risk, the impact on our chances of promotion this season might be more severe.  On the same day Scott Loach, who had already had one loan spell at Morecambe aborted earlier in the window as the Shrimpers secured a longer-term option, continued to demonstrate that he’s a man in demand by securing further first-team experience at Bradford City.

And whilst all of this was going on, of course, the painfully protracted departure of the iconic Marlon King, which had been inevitable whatever the truth of his failed medical from the moment we accepted an offer from Fulham, drew closer.  The best stab at the subsequent passage of events seems to be that Fulham found something with his medical and tried to play hardball by drastically reducing their up-front payment, with a larger fee dependent on appearances.  I know that a lot of tapping up goes on and that it’s unrealistic to expect no contact to have been made with King before the event;  I know too that the point of medicals is to show up problems if they exist.  But I can’t have been the only one grinning when Wigan came in with an offer to trump Fulham’s now irrelevant negotiating position – albeit guaranteeing us considerably less than the £5million initially suggested. 

It’s easy to revise history in the light of events, but a big part of me isn’t overly distraught that King has gone.  Whether his injury flares up or not, there’s little doubt that whilst he retains his strength, intelligence, skill and aggression he lost the fabled yard of pace during his spell out, and that leaves him a very good striker rather than the irrepressible talisman that we all want him still to be.  Having said which, “are you watching Marlon King” rather ignores both his immense contribution to the club during his time here, and the necessity of an individual with a criminal record (and, potentially, a lingering injury problem) to maximise his earnings before he retires.  With £1m reportedly riding on Wigan staying up that’s something we should all be hoping for, particularly if it condemns Fulham in the process.

The transfer window closed with two impressive-looking signings on deadline day.  Leigh Bromby joined the Hornets for an initial £600,000 less than twenty-four hours after facing us at Bramall Lane as a decent looking replacement for our original candidate for this role.  I must confess that my mental image of Bromby was dominated by his ridiculously long throw and being absolutely skinned by Marlon at Bramall Lane two years ago; whilst his debut went some way to allay concerns provoked by the latter, his throw in is a thing of wonder… Doris and Danny will have lots of fun with that, one suspects.  It’s worth noting also that someone who made the move from Hillsbrough to Bramall Lane isn’t short of balls.

Finally, ticking any number of boxes, John Eustace arrived for a cheap-looking £250,000 from Stoke City.  The Potters may feel they’ve traded up in replacing him with the sought-after Glenn Whelan from Wednesday, but we’ve badly lacked the experience and leadership that 28 year-old Eustace provides.  The contrast between yesterday’s performance and that a week previously was down to him more than to any other individual, however strong individual performances were elsewhere.

It may well be that a year ago I’d have been eulogising the potential of Cavalli, Avinel, Hoskins, Rinaldi (Ha!)… I dunno.  All you can do is call it as you see it.  On yesterday’s evidence, it looks pretty good…

Watford 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 (02/02/2008) 03/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from Wolves

1- John Eustace.  A signing after ig’s own heart – he was eulogising 20 minutes in, and the new man had barely touched the ball.  He made a difference in any event – shouting, organising, and stabilising the whole side in a way that made last weekend’s shambles a distant memory.  The team has a leader, at last.

2- Leigh Bromby.  Wow, that throw.  Distance, trajectory AND accuracy… Doris is going to love that.  Defended well also – won a large number of headers for a smallish centreback.

3- Steve Kabba.  Steve bloody Kabba.  Terrace hero.  Who’d have thought it?  The “tackle” out on our right flank at the end of the first half is a highlight of the season already.

4- How much tamer did Wolves look as a consequence of our having a bit of spine, at last?

5- And a clean sheet to boot.  Big hurrahs all round.  More, please.