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End of Term Report Part 3 26/05/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

The study still has one large box and any amount of unsorted crap nesting behind me, but I’ve carved myself out a corner, plugged things in and it all seems to be cooking so on we go…

11 (#1) – Jobi McAnuff

Although it didn’t feel that way at the time, I think we should perhaps be grateful for Jobi’s handful of appearances at the start of the season. The haphazard excitement of the win at the City Ground saw the last hour of his Watford career and was all I saw of him in our colours this season, but by all accounts his final four outings encapsulated Jobi at his most frustrating. Odd glimpses of devastating brilliance layered with rather more prolonged spells of irrelevance and petulance… had it not been for this timely reminder we might have mourned the loss of Jobi rather more, mindful of his fine form under Brendan Rodgers at the end of the previous campaign. As it was, McAnuff’s next appearance was against Watford having been reunited with his former manager. Having already prized money out of the Royals for Rodgers, and then seen Tommy Smith pull the rug dramatically and deliciously we were able to see McAnuff as the cherry on the cake as far as our fractious early-season relationship with the Berkshire club was concerned.

Next Season: McAnuff seemed to have a decent season at Reading, but that’s always been the thing, hasn’t it? He always looked exciting playing for other clubs… Wimbledon, Palace, West Ham, Cardiff. A player I’d always hoped we’d sign. Then we did and… well. Perhaps there’s something to read into the relatively frequent moves, and into the stories linking him to yet another sideways move to QPR.

11 (#2) – Heidar Helguson

There are several stick-in-the-memory images that will survive in the memory from this season. One of which I’m sure will be referred to in passing below. Another, I think, will be the sight of Helguson exiting stage right against a vanquished Reading, and Danny Graham’s enthusiastic appreciation for his strike partner, his urging of the Vicarage Road stands to match his own applause. Helguson’s second (and, technically, third) spells at Vicarage Road never quite managed to match the game against Leicester for heroic drama, but nor should they be cheapened by comparison with his first spell at the club, nor by the situation he found himself in. Quite clearly unfit for long periods, Helguson continued to put himself on the line in a manner quite unbefitting of a mere loanee. If his lack of mobility in the second half of the season limited his effectiveness, eleven goals in twenty six starts interrupted by injury was nonetheless a decent return; in competing and battling in a fashion that other loanees in the recent and not recent past really haven’t done, he displayed a professionalism that shouldn’t be taken for granted in retrospect.

Next Season: H will be 33 in August, and as we’ve seen this season will not be a young 33. It was suggested more than once during the year that a deal to retain H was all but agreed; if this is the case we’ll benefit from his experience and brutishness in a side lacking in both qualities. If not… I think we’ll appreciate the reasons why.

12- Lloyd Doyley

There are still detractors, clearly, and there are conversations that are just not worth having. Like… if you don’t get why the MK Dons are an abomination then it’s really not worth explaining to you. Again. And like… if you really are going to buy the Daily Mail through choice then your thought processes are so far removed from mine that I can’t begin to put myself in your shoes and as such will never win the argument. Nor do I want to, frankly. Those daft enough to dismiss Lloyd as a problem that needs solving just haven’t been paying attention. Fortunately, as second place in the Player of the Year award reflects, a fair few have. Oh, and that goal…

Next Season: Lloydinho will be here forever. Splendid.

14- Ross Jenkins

After a strong 2008/09, the last campaign was somehow less impressive from the youngster. The greatest problem appeared to spring from an uncomfortable midfield partnership with John Eustace that never quite worked; whilst not fulfilling identical roles, the two never really complemented each other and as Henri Lansbury found his home in the centre of midfield Jenkins was always going to be the fall guy as the rejuvenated Eustace brought some much needed gravitas to the midfield. Still a teenager, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Jenkins alongside Lansbury in some ways; in any event, the lad has a bright future and might benefit from only having played half the season; more experienced players found the full whack a very tall order.

Next Season: Still in and around the squad and probably a first choice in the centre again as the squad stands. One to be patient with – this boy will be a star.

15- Jon Harley

There can’t have been many Watford supporters who wouldn’t have liked to keep Jon Harley. He may have been a nasty little bugger but he was our nasty little bugger, and even off the bench provided both venom and an option in several positions when such were needed. Thing is… if you were starting from scratch with our budget, there’d be little justification in spending what must be a considerable wad on an experienced player who was, at best, the first choice cover in a number of positions. We simply don’t have that luxury. Some might argue that Harley was under-utilised as a left back as the only senior left-footed player in the squad; as mentioned a few times on these pages he was never dependable enough as a defender for my money, caught too often out of position. In any event, Harley was never going to stay, having made what is presumably a very healthy nest egg out of seeing out contracts and negotiating signing-on fees as a free agent ever since he left Chelsea in his one big-money move as a 20 year-old.

Next Season: Somewhere like Preston seems a sound bet, with Darren Ferguson taking a broom to the Deepdale squad. Or perhaps a return to Burnley, one of few who will have enough loose change to recruit experienced cover. Good luck Jon in any event. Job done.


End of Term Report Part 2 22/05/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

I have to confess that after a fortnight in the new house I still haven’t unpacked my study. Therefore I still don’t have a match programme from last season to guide me through the various different sporters of each first team shirt so apologies in advance if I miss someone and have to backtrack. I would of course be unpacking now, but Rahelle is in bed next door to the study and has just got up and thrown the curtains open at 8.30pm proclaiming, “It’s morning!”. Anyway…

6- Jay Demerit

August’s exodus, and the ostracism (if only temporary in one key case) of several others left our captain as one of very few experienced players in the first team squad. Bullish, aggressive, athletic Demerit may be, but he never really carried the captain’s armband comfortably or convincingly; his absence with a freak eye injury was keenly felt, but Demerit’s form over the season suffered in comparison to his resurgence alongside Mike Williamson at the end of the previous campaign, a partnership that never looked like being recreated alongside Martin Taylor. The recent announcement of Demerit’s departure confirmed what has been evident since he postponed contract discussions until after the forthcoming World Cup Finals. Jay has been a terrific servant to Watford, his attitude and application never in question but he’s always needed a senior partner. Would have been splendid to hang on to him, but in the circumstances of needing to shed higher earners and with the forthcoming jamboree serving as an opportunity for Jay to secure a big signing on fee for perhaps the last time, we should all wish him well.

Next Season: The accepted wisdom seems to be that Jay is moving abroad. Joining the considerable American influx to the Bundesliga seems a reasonable punt, perhaps to a solid bottom-half side. Which gives me an excuse to insert Borussia Mönchengladbach in a BHaPPY post for the first time…

7- Don Cowie

Don’s form suffered towards the end of the campaign; frankly he looked exhausted. Whether it was a case of too many games, carrying a knock or merely loss of form, popular opinion seemed to turn unsympathetically against the Scot – never a boo boy, he nonetheless seemed to attract more grumbles than seemed entirely fair. When on song Cowie is industrious, deft and clever… not quite quick enough to be a top winger, quite obviously, but then if he had pace to complement his other considerable attributes he wouldn’t be playing for us. As reliable a deliverer of set pieces as there is in the squad as betrayed by his lofty position in the Assists table posted a week or so ago, Cowie will remain one of the cornerstones of next season’s team. Good job too.

Next Season: A key man.

8 (#1) – Tommy Smith

It seems like an awfully long time ago, but Tommy played five games at the start of the campaign before his dramatic departure, scoring twice and creating four in that period. That rare and precious thing, a consistent and reliable frontman, it’s rather tragic to have seen Smudger struggle with injury and, along with everyone else, the general chaos at Fratton Park. He was never going to stay, of course, much as he apparently wanted to, and the abortive move to Reading was very funny indeed, but it seemed inconceivable a year ago that Smith’s season wouldn’t be a continuation of the invention, drive, skill and verve that characterised his second spell at Vicarage Road.

Next Season: Wolves were certainly interested a year ago; whether rumours of renewed approaches are the work of Tommy’s agent or something more substantial remains to be seen. Michael Kightly’s ongoing injury problems suggest the latter is plausible. It would feel odd rooting for Wolves, though…

8 (#2) – Stephen McGinn

Explicitly “one for the future”, in adherence to the advertised and sensible model of spending what little money we spend on potential, McGinn showed flashes of this potential at most. That’s fine really; the caveats presented on his arrival prevented any unreasonable expectations developing, but it’s fair to say that McGinn’s occasional cameos whilst suggesting an enthusiasm to get stuck in and get involved haven’t exactly demanded a starting berth as yet. Seemingly destined for a central midfield role, his outings in wide positions have seen him drift inside in search of the ball.

Next Season: It seems inevitable that we’ll see a lot more of McGinn, and make demands of that potential.

10 – Danny Graham

There’s a danger that the lasting memory of Danny’s first season at Watford will be of his extended barren spell during the second half of the season, unhelpfully mirroring a similar goal-free run during his last season at Carlisle that had been noted by many on his recruitment. It would be unfair if this were so… Danny not only ended up our leading scorer but also our leading creator of goals, and it was generally acknowledged that even when the goals weren’t going in for him the side looked a lot more potent with him in it. Frankly a striker so mobile, so honest and so aware of what’s going on around him is always going to be an asset, even if a general bedraggledness, a lack of selfishness and arrogance that I remember discussing early on with my co-editor, means that spells without scoring might crop up again. We’ll all put up with those I think, particularly if Graham ends up being paired with the pace that could exploit his intelligent link-up play.

Next Season: The only striker on the books at the time of writing who could even generously be described as “experienced”, a lot of weight is on Danny’s shoulders going into the new campaign. Arguably the player we can least afford to get injured, as it stands.

End of Term Report Part 1 18/05/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Might be worth kicking this off to give myself half a chance of finishing it before everyone’s suddenly too interested in the World Cup to remember Ryan Noble. If you fancy going back over last year’s School Report you can find most of it in the June 2009 entries.

1- Scott Loach

Arguably the one eminently marketable asset who we managed to hold on to, Loach penning a new deal in January was a significant boost on a number of levels. If we can afford not to cash in on a(nother) source of a couple of million quid straight away, we’re not right up against the wall, just a step or two in front of it perhaps. And equally significantly, Loach opting to commit himself to the club in the face of more lucrative offers said good things both about the spirit in the camp and at least one player’s perspective of the club’s immediate future, and of Loach’s own broader outlook. Erstwhile colleague Ben Foster’s experience, sitting on the bench (at best) at Old Trafford at the age of 27, might have been a factor in Loach deciding that perhaps he could afford not to make the step up quite yet. I must confess to wondering more than once whether we might have been better off with a couple of million quid though… young keepers do tend to make mistakes; could we have done better with whatever proportion of that fee we could have afforded to reinvest, at least in the short term? A moot point. Loach stayed and contributed to our survival.

Next season: Today’s paper stories suggesting that Loach might be interesting Tottenham and West Ham don’t feel like an accident. Scott is probably on his way, and with a few years on his contract will fetch us (and Lincoln) more than he might have done. Good luck chap.

2- Adrian Mariappa

Still only 23, Mariappa has evolved into one of our senior players – a fact underlined by his occasional captaining of the side early in the campaign. Clearly captain material too, as betrayed by what was probably the worst team performance of the season; Mariappa made mistakes against Peterborough at home, but many of them borne by forcing the issue, trying to do something different on a difficult pitch on an afternoon when nothing was working and offer some leadership in a side that was badly needing it. His reward was a barracking from a criminally short-sighted Vicarage Road that lead to his substitution. These last five minutes were the only five minutes that he missed all season; another to have signed a new contract, he remains a huge asset.

Next season: Jay Demerit’s departure suggests that Mariappa might finally get to settle in his strongest position at centre-back.

3- Jure Travner

Having been the exotic, unknown quantity amongst last summer’s recruits, Travner’s failure to progress beyond the occasional place on the bench suggests that the enthusiasm prompted by Youtube clips a year ago was perhaps unfounded.

Next season: Destined to join the ranks of the likes of Sietes, Junior and Adam Griffiths in Watford folklore, the one consolation being that our current recruitment strategy is turning up far fewer punts that didn’nt quite work out than it once did.

4- Scott Severin

Whilst it’s fair to say that Severin didn’t make the desired impact, it’s also slightly unreasonable to write him off as a failure. His half-a-dozen starts might not have pulled up many trees, a distinct lack of pace being one obvious limitation, but the re-emergence of the man he was signed to replace was the biggest factor in his failure to add to them. His reaction to being gradually sidelined appeared pragmatic rather than stroppy, and he spent the second half of the season on loan at Kilmarnock.

Next season: Whether Severin has a future at Watford once again seems dependent on our bearded midfield general. You’d guess not, though.

5- Henri Lansbury

At times I must confess to have perhaps having been quite hard on Henri Lansbury; asking a nineteen year-old to play virtually a full season in central midfield is a big ask. Jack Cork had done as much at the same age the previous season of course (with two different clubs), and Ross Jenkins, younger than Lansbury, had been similarly impressive. But this was a challenging benchmark, and whilst Lansbury at his best was the equal of his fellow loanee from Old Trafford – most memorably and gloriously in the demolition of Sheffield Wednesday at Vicarage Road – he didn’t hit his best quite as regularly. That his weaker performances suggested a lack of application probably didn’t do him any favours but as Malky Mackay – rightly wanting to advertise the benefits of a secondment at the Vic – has been keen to point out, the tail end of the season saw Lansbury deliver the goods far more reliably even as the side struggled around him. More comfortable alongside an enforcer in central midfield than in the hole behind the striker, he still needs to learn to keep his temper and needs rather more of the good days, but on those good days it’s more than just the physical stature that suggests Steven Gerrard.

Next Season: Kinda surprised at the time that Arsenal gave Lansbury a new contract mid-season. I guess that’s why Arsène’s doing what he does and I’m, um, not. Malky has suggested that we’d like him again; Lansbury’s cameo in Arsenal’s final game could be interpreted as a carrot prior to a further loan spell.

Helping Hands 2009/2010 12/05/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Here we are again. Listed below an account of this seasons “assists”, tallied up by ploughing through match reports, youtube, and any other source of information at hand.

As ever, my figures differ from those tabulated on the Official Site, which will in part be down to differing definitions of what constitutes an “assist”… here I’ve defined being fouled for a converted penalty as an assist, although that didn’t actually apply in practice since all the penalties we scored this season were won by their scorers, and assisting your own goal doesn’t feel quite right (else the lead at the top would be even clearer). No assist for being fouled for a converted free kick, and if a cross is flicked on then both crosser AND flicker-on get the assist. In this respect the table differs from that in previous seasons so you’re not comparing like with like if you look back at the 2008-09 or 2007-08 equivalents – only the flicker-on assisted previously. That’s stats for you, welcome to my life…

Thoughts? Well my instinctive response on seeing who topped the table was “well that’s surprising”, followed by “well no it isn’t, really”. Despite his lean goalscoring streak mid-season, few could dispute Graham’s overall contribution; a successful season for last summer’s recruit all round. Slightly alarming that (at least) six of the top nine are varying degrees of unlikely to be with us next season, but big respec’ as ever to Tommy Smith for a very significant contribution to our early season form.

Finally, slightly disappointing to see that Lloyd didn’t manage an assist this time round after six over the previous two seasons, but it’s the “one” in the fourth column that we’ll all remember…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Graham 7 40+9 14 Bp (h), LC (h), Mb (a), Ip (a), ScU (h), QPR (h), IpT (h)
Cleverley 6 35 11 SwC (a), ShW (h), ShW (h), ScU (h), QPR (h), BrC (a)
Cowie 6 43+1 2 Ba (h), PlA (a), PNE (h), QPR (h), WBA (h), Rg (h)
Lansbury 5 35+4 5 ShW (h), PNE (h), ScU (h), Bp (a), BrC (h)
Smith 4 5 2 DR (h), NF (a), NF (a), Bp (h)
Harley 3 20+20 1 Ba (h), Rg (a), ShW (h)
Helguson 3 26+3 11 Bp (a), PNE (a), Rg (h)
Hodson 3 32+2 0 LC (h), LC (h), Rg (h)
Eustace 3 42+3 4 Ba (h), Rg (a), ShW (h)
Bryan 2 1+6 0 LC (a), CvC (a)
McAnuff 1 4 0 Bt (a – LC)
Buckley 1 4+2 1 CrP (h)
Taylor 1 17+2 2 ShU (h)
Jenkins 1 22+4 0 NF (a)
Mariappa 1 49 1 BrC (h)
Brooks 0 0+1 0
Massey 0 0+1 0
Oshodi 0 0+1 0
Henderson 0 0+15 0
Sordell 0 1+5 2
Lee 0 2 0
McGinn 0 2+7 0
Ellington 0 2+16 1
Williamson 0 6 2
Severin 0 6+5 1
Hoskins 0 6+13 3
Bennett 0 8+2 0
Cathcart 0 12 0
Demerit 0 26+2 0
Doyley 0 46+1 1
Loach 0 47 0

Unaccounted for:

Helguson vs Sheffield United (h)
Graham vs Scunthorpe (a)
Helguson vs Cardiff (a)
Sordell vs Coventry (a)