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Watford 0 Queens Park Rangers 2 (30/04/2011) 30/04/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from the last home game of the season.

1- Glossing over the other stuff for the moment and focusing on, you know, the game of football taking place on the pitch… it wasn’t bad, was it? Far better, far more competitive than might have been feared given a home side with ostensibly little to play for and visitors only needing a point. It could easily have been a shocker. Instead, whilst it was never as open as the first meeting between the two sides – Rangers weren’t going to fall into that trap again, let alone in this context – it was feisty and committed, if frequently scruffy and untidy. Colin may have indulged in a foreign prima donna, but he hasn’t thrown out his modus operandi completely. Two sides who didn’t want to concede, but nonetheless sent units rattling forward chasing a crucial goal, as if playing Kabbadi. The chances came at both ends; as at Leicester, perhaps more so, it could have gone our way. Certainly as Sean Murray prepared to enter the fray for a sprightly, encouraging and long-awaited debut we were in the ascendancy, the side more likely to. Instead, Rangers nicked the lead, and that was that. The game was always going to run away from us if we went behind, and the magnificent Tommy Smith put the seal on it with a fine second. Nonetheless, there was far more to the game than the one-sided romp that some reports have suggested; on this occasion, however, the context and the peripherals were more important than what actually happened on the pitch.

2- And the context of course is that Rangers would appear to have won promotion and the title, subject to the coming week’s proceedings. On the subject of which… it seems inconceivable that a points deduction won’t ensue. It’s not as if the Tevez situation left anyone in any doubt as to the rules. QPR, albeit there’s far more to the side than Faurlin, would not be punished by a fine should their promotion stand; indeed one might argue that had Faurlin’s recruitment been conscious and cynical, it would have paid off, and where then the disincentive for every other bugger to ignore the rules on player ownership?

Less conceivable still of course is the fact that the League have left it this late to adjudicate, as if they’ve gone out of their way to make life difficult for themselves and everyone else, Rangers not least. But should Rangers suffer a points penalty you won’t find many tears shed in Hertfordshire, I suspect. It wasn’t the unseemly scuffles with interlopers in the Rookery, these have happened pretty much whenever visiting supporters have made significant incursion; I’m sure there were far more Rangers fans in the home end keeping a respectably low profile than there were causing trouble. It’s not even the pitch invasion, tedious as that was; those of us on the pitch at Craven Cottage thirteen years ago (ulp) would hardly be in a position to criticise on that score. It was the utterly needless and moronic charge towards the home end, the provocation of a situation that was only ever going to be diffused by a heavyweight police presence, ultimately on horseback. Celebrate by all means, but why a stand-off? Fuckwits. A situation not remotely placated by the reliably provocative Neil Warnock, as ever displaying all the restraint and judgment of a four year old with a sugar rush in gesticulating towards the Rookery end.

3- As for their team… one suspects that major surgery will be forthcoming, should they go up. Perhaps it will happen anyway. This is essentially a classic Warnock side with a sprinkling of fairy dust, but that won’t be nearly enough in the top flight. Even Taarabt, who put in a classic “best kid in the playground” performance (thanks, ig), from frequently hanging on to the ball too long to throwing a great big strop and ostensibly threatening to take his ball home to, ultimately, scoring the goal that changed the game, even he might lack the composure and the patience to make his talent count against more experienced defenders. That Shaun Derry can still walk baffles me… he’s surely to be out to pasture. Dan Shittu, whilst only a sub, put in a performance that almost parodied his clumsiest at Vicarage Road. And Heidar, bless him, is not going to lead the line next season; he turns 34 in August. “A team to get you promoted”, as someone said before the game.

4- As for the ‘orns… delayed as it was, much as it’s surely replicated at the end of the season at every club around the country, I love the parade around the stands. The players having their kids with them re-enforces the family thing, and that’s just superb. Long may the tradition prevail. It’s worth noting, too, that whilst Britt Assomablonga didn’t make it onto the pitch, he nonetheless became the twentieth (twentieth!) home grown player to be named in a squad this season. That’s surely a focal point of any balanced review of our campaign. Mackay continues to work wonders, and will surely be tested again next time around; Scott Loach appeared to be waving goodbye, and it would be a huge if welcome surprise to see undisputed Player of the Year Danny Graham still in a Watford shirt (and vest, of which many were sported in the home end. and red shorts! hurrah!) come August. The last of the big salaries may be off the books by then, but the challenges won’t be any smaller.

5- A small detail, an aside, a footnote. But as this is half my blog, I have the right to be self-indulgent. After twelve seasons in the same seat, I have finally been located by a drip. On a day like today… occasionally chilly but bright and sunny and certainly not wet. A drip. This is as large a concern to me as the state of our squad, the state of the pitch. And far more than the Royal Wedding. Anyway. Do carry on…

Big respec’ to all those going to Preston. Were it worth the effort, if there was the slightest chance that anyone reading this didn’t already agree, it would be worth commenting on the lunacy of the scheduling of the final matches of the season. But, you know. BHaPPY will not be represented, much as Deepdale has always been a good away trip. “Helping Hands” and the School Report will follow shortly. Otherwise, have a good summer…


Leicester City 4 Watford 2 (25/04/2011) 25/04/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from an unseasonably sunny (it’s still April, no?) Walkers Stadium

1- It’s easy to be wise after the event, it’s true. Easier, anyway. Occasionally, however, even those of us shockingly incompetent at calling an outcome see a big fat rain cloud lurching overhead and think to grab an umbrella, so to speak.

Our first thought had been that this was the sort of game that might quite suit us. A Leicester side who, like us, had little left to play for boasted a number who have played at a higher level, and therefore might find it difficult to get worked up about an end of season mid-table fixture in the sunshine.

Our second thought was that we might have stood perhaps a better chance of capitalising had the fixture occurred on a Saturday, rather than two days after a sapping chase in the heat against Barnsley. Leicester, after all, had had more than twenty-four hours further rest than us, and a bigger squad to accommodate tired legs in a packed fixture list.

Both suspicions proved well-founded. The first half of one of those games that went through moods like a piece of classical music saw the home side with plenty of possession but far too lazy to do anything with it. Darius Vassell in particular put in a rather shameful display, refusing to chase back, scarcely making a run and making our defending all rather easy. When we went ahead, a fine, bold goal from sub Marvin Sordell, the indolence of the home side bordered on the comical with several suddenly developing limps and aches and quite visibly not fancying it. This suggestion was only strengthened by the quick exchange of goals before the break; the game could have been won before half time, the 2-1 scoreline at this point flattering the home side.

Much as the tendency is to view each game in a Watfordcentric way, the change in tack in the second half wouldn’t have happened but for the home side’s change in approach at the interval. The Foxes game out with rockets up their backsides, something that would doubtless have confused those who criticised Sven-Goran Eriksson for a lack of passion whilst in the England job. Ultimately, we wilted under some pretty relentless pressure – for more detail read on, but we were an utterly spent force, dead on our feet midway through the second half. This squad has achieved admirable things this season, but two such games with effectively the same eleven (after Andi Weimann’s early withdrawal) was beyond it.

2- Which isn’t to say that the result was never in doubt. Graham, who has missed a few of late even as he continues to conduct our attacking play, and the increasingly vital Deeney had chances to put us two goals clear. One has to wonder, in particular, how the afternoon might have panned out had Scott Loach not had quite such an erratic afternoon. Beaten inexplicably from distance by a well-placed but very savable shot for the first, some appalling decision-making gifted Yakubu the second and few in the away end were feeling generous enough to give the custodian the benefit of the doubt for the fourth, defensive confusion allowing Yakubu (again) to lob.

Loach’s man-of-the-match performance on Saturday was vital in earning three points; here, he looked anything but an international prospect. Admittedly a young player will make mistakes, and a goalkeeper’s mistakes tend to have harsh consequences. Admittedly, Loach was playing in front of a tired defence and, equally significantly, a central midfield in which the lightweight Mingoia contributed some decent flicks, perceptive passes, but as much physical presence as a paper bag. But this wasn’t good enough.

3- One of the season’s recurring themes… but Will Buckley appears to be very much persona non grata once again. Saturday’s game had cried out for someone to take the pressure off by running off with the ball, Buckley’s best thing, in the second half. Here, we had players dead on their feet and badly needed a release long before our third substitution, the late introduction of Bennett for the presumably ailing Martin Taylor. Buckley hasn’t featured at all in the last four games, and would appear to need to make the most of any minutes he gets before the end of the campaign.

4- There’s suddenly something of a charm offensive going on at Leicester; the pies are fine, and come encased in a considerate cardboard holder that permits halfway tidy consumption. The stewards are civil, and labelled something deliberately accommodating like “supporter assistant”. Every greeting and welcome across the PA system pointedly singles out the visiting supporters (even if half time compere Alan Birchenall is audibly offering his regards with his arm firmly twisted behind his back). The fox-themed character brings the young Watford mascot up to the away end for a bow and a cheer; there are even shielding nets above and either side of the warm-up goals to protect the supporters behind from wayward shots in the warm up. All very agreeable, and an air of bonhomie that had been fuelled by a pleasant pint in a nearby cricket club beforehand. The cricket club should have been a warning, mind… Burnley and Turf Moor was the obvious comparator, we tend to get stuffed there, too.

5- Following Ian’s comment from Saturday, the very visible and audible presence of the Yellow Order made for an atmosphere that bordered on the boisterous. Goodness, whatever next – actual chanting? At a Watford game? Whilst conceding my own descent towards old fartdom, I have nothing but appreciation for these developments, and particularly the positive tone – happy to take the piss but without descending into crassness. All power to them.

Watford 1 Barnsley 0 (23/04/2011) 24/04/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. There’s a large glass of Pimms within arm’s reach as I type this. Which should tell you several things: that it’s still Saturday evening, that the quality of this report may deteriorate by the time we get to thunk #5, and, crucially, that it’s not sodding winter any more. Strolling through Cassiobury Park in simmering, hazy heat on the way to the game, it barely felt like football weather at all. Truly, the end of a hard but hugely rewarding season. The sense of satisfied calm – for the sake of the peaceful image, we’ll ignore Malky bellowing urgent, demanding instructions from the touchline, still every inch the leader – is prize enough. 2010/11 has turned out very all right.

And for five minutes, the game of the season. Exhibiting a vulnerability at set pieces that made us look like Stoke, Barnsley came perilously close to conceding the game altogether during a period in which the ball only seemed to leave their six yard box in order that they could kick off again. In all of that, John Eustace belted home after Troy Deeney’s looping header had come back off the bar (from a short corner, fans of groaning at short corners) and was almost immediately denied by a sprawling save; another header was sliced around the post by a defender as full-scale panic started to set in. The pressure was relentless, a seemingly irresistible force. And then Dave arrived and it all stopped as if we’d been caught doing something naughty.

2. It would be inaccurate to suggest that we played no further part in the game…but not unfair to observe that the part played rarely extended to their side of the halfway line, let alone the six yard box over which we’d briefly claimed such dominance. Recent games have taught us much about the value of striking early; with the goal to back us up, we seemed almost determined to test the first-goal-wins principle to its absolute limit. It was quite hard work.

As if the adrenaline had suddenly left our system, we looked tired, leggy and in need of some time spent doing something else. We conceded ground to Barnsley until, by the second half, only Scott Loach stood before them on several occasions. This Watford side has sometimes been found wanting when opponents have blocked up our whirring cogs with bog roll and occasionally it’s been out-played too; it’s rarely looked quite so laboured in the face of, frankly, thoroughly mediocre opposition. The attacking threat all but evaporated, taking most of a lightweight midfield with it…and a complex formation (approximately 4-1-2-(x-y)2-√z or something) was rather reduced to six-against-the-rest. Odd to use only two substitutes with so many absentees, young and established alike.

3. If Troy Deeney eventually blended into the anonymous blur, he took an awful lot longer than most. Often up-and-down in a rather Jordan Stewart kinda way – undermining a positive and encouraging contribution one moment with a distracted, infuriating error almost immediately (although never quite to Stewart’s peerless level) – his first half in particular was jam-packed with consistent, varied contributions. Strong headers, hard work, neat touches, bright vision. In a forward line featuring Danny Graham and Marvin Sordell, his was the star turn, the real source of impetus and momentum.

So evidently a player who likes a good measure of pitch in front of him, it’s not immediately clear where he’d fit into a side featuring Don Cowie and Stephen McGinn. But no matter, for now: it’s enough that he’s shown us who he is, and that’s a great deal more than the rather lost, slightly downcast figure who’s frequently paled into insignificance alongside Graham’s massive presence since his arrival. He deserves a goal or two.

4. The atmosphere at Vicarage Road has become distinctly odd over the last couple of months. Let’s be quite clear, for a start: the Yellow Order‘s attempts to inject some passion into proceedings are commendable and very welcome indeed. Well done, you. The problem is that gathering all of those interested in making some noise in one far-flung corner of the Rookery means there’s no-one to carry the chants across the rest of the stand; all of the singing is over there. For one particular bit, the Rookery has never been louder or more passionate; for the rest, it’s never been quieter or more dominated by idle chit-chat.

Maybe the Yellow Order needs an appointed representative in each block to get things going. He said, ducking swiftly out of sight to avoid pointing fingers…

5. The new owners’ first noticeable contribution to the club appears to be a covering for the dug-out area…which is essentially a large pre-fab car-port made of corrugated perspex. Just the thing for the spring weather…if you’re growing tomatoes. It looks as if it’d blow away if John Eustace shouted at it. A disappointing start for Mr Bassini, who could’ve won hearts and minds by investing in something more elegant: some yellow, red and black retractable awnings would’ve looked very smart, I reckon….

6. Finally, a plug for From the Rookery End’s ‘Wear a Vest’ Day against QPR next Saturday. Get down to Primark pronto!

Leeds United 2 Watford 2 (16/04/2011) 16/04/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

Five thunks from an exciting Elland Road

1- Raucous, boisterous, scruffy, gripping, intense, volatile, tremendous fun. Much as Norwich sounded, in fact, and one post-match suggestion drew that comparison directly. The result may lay our remote play-off chances to rest… but if this is what fizzling out looks like, I’m keenly looking forward to Barnsley, Leicester, QPR and Preston. Never tidy, never scripted, never elegant but never dull, matches like this are the reason why merely being us is no great tragedy, far from it.

For much of the game, the home side had edge in terms of possession; at the start of each half they came at us with venom (if limited guile, of which more below). And yet neither side was secure, with counterattacks rattling backwards and forwards like a puck on an air hockey table, keeping one on the edge of one’s seat (quite literally). Either side could have won it. Neither did, which is probably about right. Watford may have flirted with the play-offs for much of the season, but coming up to Leeds and competing, and making a good case for three points with a team of kids is still way beyond reasonable expectation. Afternoons like this will never get old.

2- It’s fair to say that the home support may not have perceived the outcome in quite the same way. In fairness, they were considerably more patient than I had expected… nil-nil after twenty minutes tends to provoke audible dissent at the City Ground, for example, or at Molineux. Not so here, where Leeds generally stayed behind their side throughout. Nonetheless, two home fans evicted from the away end, one having apparently vaulted over from the home enclosure, feels like par for the course. As do streams of supporters leaving at 2-2 with the game as finely balanced as a house of cards in a sandstorm. As does turning your back silently on your side at the final whistle. As does the bottle thrown at the celebrating Watford players after the equaliser. As does, the cherry on the cake, the skinhead in a First Aid bib whose reaction to the tediously persistent pitch invader after Leeds’ opener resisted eviction, was to implore the stewards to “kick him in the head”, accompanied by demonstrative fist punch from the far end of the pitch. If Leeds don’t go up, few tears will be shed elsewhere one suspects.

3- Noteworthy aspects to many of the goals. Working backwards, Troy Deeney’s bizarre own goal blotted another healthy copybook for the forward, who was involved at each end of the pitch and had denied what had seemed an inevitable opening Leeds goal with a magnificent block in the first half. Andi Weimann’s strike minutes earlier owed everything to the genius of Danny Graham and will surely feature heavily in any compilation that his agent might choose to circulate before the summer. The strength and persistence to chase down and hold off, the cleverness to turn his marker, and above all the awareness and calmness to square for Weimann to finish. Just magnificent.

But the highlight of the game was Lee Hodson’s equaliser. Nothing beautiful about this either, but just reward for a player whose return to form, as ig as already described, testifies to a strength of character. His performance today was not flawless, but positive and aggressive and committed. His Helgusonesque goal celebration in front of the away corner, a raw yell of furious excitement that was mirrored by much of the away end. Brilliant.

4- Not difficult to see how Leeds have scored so many goals. Admittedly in the first half an under strength side had far more vim and energy than guile; the impish Max Gradel provided what variety there was, and he drifted in and out. Otherwise, the lumpy, immobile Somma was the target for a predictable if relentless attack. Becchio’s introduction tipped the balance; he competed and held Leeds’ attack together, profiting from some slack marking to give Leeds the lead before departing again, presumably having aggravated the injury that was being gambled on – a gamble that might prove costly for Leeds. Throughout, the pace didn’t subside, although one suspects that Premiership defences might cope with that rather more comfortably than Championship rearguards have.

5- A word for the somewhat maligned Drinkwater, who had a tidy hour after replacing the injured Jenkins in a midfield where time and space were often at a premium… unfussy, Drinkwater made generally good decisions and kept possession well, keeping us moving alongsde John Eustace. Who was splendidly imperious. But you knew that.

Watford 2 Norwich City 2 (12/04/2011) 13/04/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1a. For anyone worried that the season might fizzle out, a properly tasty game of football. Any mention of officials in the first thunk is inevitably followed by a tirade…but this is the exception, for Mr A Taylor’s contribution, while sometimes inconsistent and occasionally slightly bewildering, should be heartily applauded by all card-carrying members of the Campaign for Real Tackling.

On Saturday, the tone was set by play being stopped for a minor shirt-tug within the first couple of minutes; here, the referee didn’t give any fouls (offsides and a solitary hand-ball excluded) for about half an hour, leaving a physical-but-fair contest to evolve without intervention. An absolutely outstanding first half was capped by a superb advantage as Danny Graham battled to break free on his way to setting up Don Cowie for a gloriously sweeping second goal, the linesman’s frantic flag-waving ignored in favour of letting the move continue. He deserved as much of an ovation as the teams at the break.

If the second half was more difficult to handle, and praise less unreserved as a consequence, the fact remains that a thrilling, vibrant game owed much of its energy to a willingness to wave play on where others would calm things down. One passage summed it up: John Eustace crashing into an opponent in the shadow of the Rous and winning the ball simply by knocking them out of the way, Tierney taking that as a cue to fly into a couple of really aggressive (you know, Paul Robinson aggressive) challenges on Andreas Weimann…and, yup, that’ll be a throw-in. Immediately followed by a booking for Lloyd Doyley for taking the same cue, but doing so with a hack on Holt right in front of the Norwich bench; location location location, Lloyd.

1b. Faced with a game so feisty, so refreshingly old-fashioned in its attitude to physical contact, you realise just how sterile modern football threatens to become. If it continues to allow television coverage to dictate the agenda – endless, multi-angled replays of incidents to reach the mindless conclusion that “there’s definitely contact”, thus making contact a de facto offence and forgiving any player who feels the need to highlight that offence by throwing themselves theatrically to the ground – then it’s in danger of reaching a complete dead-end, somewhere up its own backside.

As a spectacle, it risks becoming something that’s technically skilled but emotionally vacuous, stripped of the visceral thrill of boot against boot, shin-pad against shin-pad, bone against bone. If there is a hell, it involves being forced to watch Arsenal pass the ball in flicky-flicky-pissy-passy quadrangles for all eternity, while anyone who tries to tackle them is sent off for violent conduct. If there is a hell, it’s a world ruled by Robert sodding Pires. Give us back our blood and thunder, for heaven’s sake.

1c. Um, yeah, anyway….

2. You’d struggle to find a more effective summary of the last two seasons’ positives than the first half. Granted, we conceded another daft early goal; granted, Holt then missed an absolute sitter, cancelled out by an even more extraordinary miss by Graham after the interval. But when heads could’ve dropped, we hurled ourselves back into the game with fresh appetite and remarkable vigour, forcing Norwich onto the back foot with an inventive formation that, in itself, showed how far we’ve evolved from the deliberately conservative selections of last term.

Sure, the equaliser owed much to luck – Graham’s pass to Deeney rebounding back into his own path, then a fairly feeble finish somehow beating the keeper – but we deserved that much, and almost immediately built on it with that fabulous second, a goal as excellent as any we’ve scored this season. We’re a terrifically vibrant team sometimes, full of players who’ll take the initiative. That was typified by Don Cowie on this occasion: presented with the task of creating for the front three from deeper, he was always on the ball, always looking for that darting pass to break things open, always bright and alert. It’s what we’re all about.

3. If we gradually faded after the interval, and Norwich came at us even more strongly, that only made for a different but no less enthralling contest. We showed some steel, and some real collective pride, in preventing them from taking all three points despite having most of the momentum for long periods. Even though a point won’t make much difference in the long run, you were biting your nails as we held on into injury time; when you put as much into a game as here, you want some reward for your endeavours. You want to put an end to that losing streak. We deserved that much. Hugely deserved it.

4. Let’s be clear: the myth that we’re required to play Danny Drinkwater in order to please Manchester United doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny at all, given that he’s started only three games and made five appearances as a substitute. Hardly ever-present, then. He continues to underwhelm, he said politely. You know you’ve not won people over when Anthony MacNamee (five step-overs for every touch, nothing changes) gets a louder ovation for coming on as a substitute for your opponents…

Watford 1 Hull City 2 (09/04/2011) 10/04/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. In the latest issue of Clap Your Hands Stamp Your Feet, it’s interesting to note, among other things, how often young Adrian Boothroyd’s now-chirpy-now-bitter-now-chirpy boatrace comes up. Even now, his three seasons seem so eventful, so loudly opinionated and thoroughly debatable, that he dominates proceedings as if he was still at the helm. Testament too, perhaps, to the relatively calm period since, and the lack of satirical possibilities therein.

That first full season under Boothroyd’s charge, ending in promotion at Cardiff, will always be the most hotly contested, and it was so even as it unfolded. But I’d discount one theory, voiced a little too often and a little too gleefully by his detractors in an attempt to undermine the achievement: that he was merely lucky. It’s not much of an argument, since promotion without healthy measures of good fortune for a club of Watford’s stature is inconceivable; these seasons always turn on moments like that first half at Selhurst Park, when we could’ve been swept aside and somehow survived.

Those are the moments you need, the moments that give you the momentum, the moments that are forgotten when that momentum delivers something as undeniable and unforgettable as that second half. There were arguably even more of those moments in ’99, from that absurd win over Tranmere right up to and including that magical day at Wembley: watch the playoff final again if you want to explode the myth that Bolton didn’t turn up, if you want to remember that we were the ones who took time to find our feet….

And so to this year, to this opportunity…and to the feeling that these things are sometimes meant to be. And sometimes not. On an afternoon of glorious spring sunshine, on a pitch that’s now playable, against a team alongside us, we found ourselves missing the moments that make it all come together, labouring honestly without a catalyst to breathe fresh life into our tiring limbs. On another day, in another season, a handsome win would’ve left us looking hopefully upwards. But it just didn’t happen.

2. Which isn’t to put it all down to luck. You can avoid letting your opponents score after three minutes, for a start. And even allowing for saves and woodwork, there were enough chances to spare, and with time to spare too; we had ample opportunity to turn it around and failed to do so.

It’s hard to escape the impression of a team that’s gone about as far as its legs will carry it, walking home because it couldn’t afford the bus ticket and stumbling exhausted through the front door. That we’ve made it at all, let alone with several games to spare, is deeply, deeply admirable. But the eager zest that surrounds our best play has been replaced by something slightly heavier, slightly more saggy. One incident summed it up: Danny Graham breaking forward in the first half, delaying his pass too long, and running clumsily into a defender; just one moment, but so untypical of the player. We lacked a keen mental edge, a certain brightness. Who knows what effect a win might’ve had – that’s rather my point – but nothing about us suggests a team that’s ready to push on towards the playoffs.

3. In the waxing and waning of our young players’ form lies some of the explanation of the runs of results that’ve been a feature of the campaign. Is that really Lee Hodson, who appeared so beleaguered, lost and, frankly, terrified only a few weeks ago? He now looks every inch – not many inches, I grant you – the earnest, focused and rather likeable defender we turned up last season. Is that Will Buckley, who tormented Cardiff so relentlessly that they had to kick him until he stopped? As too often, a wafting, wilting absence.

You can’t win anything with kids? We’re Watford, we don’t win anything with adults either. If the price of bringing youngsters through under a regime that genuinely cares for their future careers is inconsistency and occasional bewilderment (“What’s happened to [insert name here]?”), it’s a price well worth paying, as far as I’m concerned. Because whether Lee Hodson and Will Buckley end up playing for Manchester United or the second eleven of the Dog and Arse in Leighton Buzzard, there’s infinitely more interest, fun and satisfaction in watching them emerge than in forking out for a known, limited quantity from a Championship rival.

4. It’s been a terrific season. Another terrific season. At some point, when pressure mounts on Malky Mackay, people will inevitably try to undermine these achievements, to suggest that someone else could’ve done similar, perhaps even could’ve done better. To pick out and dwell upon the moments of good fortune. To answer that, point them at the list of ‘goal of the season’ contenders for a quick summary of what this has all been about: another year of bright, inventive attacking football from a team with plenty of stars but without puffed-up egos, put together by a young manager without any money to spend. His name should echo around Vicarage Road…and probably would, if it had four sides.

5. Nigel Pearson, on the other hand, just scares me a bit. Well, a lot. He looks a man quite capable of grabbing you by the throat and pinning you against the wall, hissing insults about how you’re not quite so smart now, are you four-eyes, and making you run around the playing field in your underpants until you faint from tear-stained humiliation. May I congratulate you on a fine victory, sir…