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End of Term Report Part 1 16/05/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Time to kick off our annual assessment of the Watford squad. Any criticism, direct or implied, carries the rider that I still can’t do as much as kick a ball in a straight line myself but, as the saying goes, “those who can’t do, write a blog”. Last year’s assessment begins on the May 2010 pages, if you’re so inclined.

1 – Scott Loach

It’s more than a little perverse that the first “proper” (rather than borrowed) Watford player to be called up to a full England squad for 23 years has been the subject of no little criticism in the season just gone. The England call-ups haven’t helped him in that respect of course; if you’re (almost) an England international then that much more is expected of you, and perhaps rightly so. The context needs to be appreciated though; as Premiership squads stretch their reach ever further, the goalkeeping position is the one where the national team is likely to be pressed for options most rapidly. As Rene Gilmartin will no doubt testify, a deputy keeper has precious few opportunities to impress… five minute runs as substitute to get a bit of action don’t really happen; this naturally limits the top flight candidates to a handful. As such, a promising English goalkeeper is likelier to be thrust into that particular limelight than a comparable player in another position. The reality is that Loach is still a young player – he turns 23 over the summer – young players make mistakes, and as every commentator knows a goalkeeper’s mistakes are visible and generally costly. For all that Loach has had more than one iffy moment over the season, he remains an excellent shot stopper and an asset.

Next Season: Having said all of which, there’s a debt that needs servicing and if we’re in the position of needing to sell, Loach is probably the realisable asset that you’d choose with encouraging noises being made about the young(er still) goalkeepers coming through. Doesn’t work like that of course, and despite what might have been interpreteed as fairwell gestures after the QPR game it’s 50/50 whether Loach stays on in the summer. Either way, he’s worthy of slightly more appreciation than he’s recently been afforded.

2 – Lee Hodson

The thing about young players and inconsistency will simply apply to so many of our kindergarten squad that it should be taken as read henceforth. It applies here of course; by Hodson’s own admission his form wobbled badly mid-season, provoking Vicarage Road’s latent desire for someone to have a good moan at which had mercifully not been evident for a while. So… what isn’t new is that we have a very promising right-back who is currently very good going forward but gets caught occasionally. What is new is that we know how gutsy he is, digging in and recovering his form when lack of options didn’t permit us to rest him, playing for a while on his weaker left side and holding down this place even when more experienced alternatives returned. He was also responsible for perhaps the moment of the season, a primal, ecstatic, furious goal celebration that had that poky corner of Elland Road responding in kind.

Next Season: We do quite a good line in iconic right-backs. Hodson might yet join those ranks.

3 (#1) – Andrew Taylor

The play-offs were never on, of course, whatever the table suggested. Top half would have been a huge achievement, fourteenth would have been taken with both hands at the start of the season by anyone with half a clue. Christ, a quarter of a clue. Nonetheless, if there was a moment when our slim hopes disappeared, it was when Middlesbrough sacked Gordon Strachan. More than the loss of the excellent Mutch, of whom more later of course, it was the loss of a proper left back that limited us from January onwards. Taylor gave us a balance defending but, particularly, attacking which allowed us to pin teams back far more effectively than we could with the various capable but not as capable deputies that stood in on his departure. Some suggested that Taylor was merely competent, that his impact was exaggerated by the absence of another left-sided defender in our senior squad; that does him a disservice for me… solid defensively, superb going forward in a division where either of the two from a full back is normally as good as you get. Tony Mowbray, sadly, not a complete idiot. Taylor also got my vote for Goal of the Season, with due respect to Captain Eustace. There’s nothing like hitting the ball really hard…

Next Season: Played as a midfielder by Tony Mowbray, I won’t be the only Watford fan with an optimistic half-eye on the fact that out-of-contract Taylor hasn’t signed a new contract at Boro yet. The coming weeks might provide an insight into quite how accurate Mowbray’s “he’s delighted to be back, honest” line was in January.

3 (#2) – Tommie Hoban

Even if I had witnessed Hoban’s one appearance off the bench at Preston, it would be unreasonable to pass judgment; all one has to go on reliably are some very encouraging noises made by 3CR’s commentary team on the day (and who am I to argue with them…). The reason for mentioning Hoban is that not only was he the fourteenth Watford player to be given a debut this season, he was the first in a very long time to have made the squad without me having heard of him until the day beforehand. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. And I’m one sad bugger when it comes to this stuff, so that’s saying something. Which, given the implications about the lack of options we were left with isn’t altogether a good thing.

Next Season: I’ll be glad if a seventeen year-old scholar only gets near the side again on merit rather than necessity. All the more so if Hoban lives up to his promising billing.

4 – John Eustace

Another massive moment this season was the point before the start, when John Eustace got lost on his way out of Leeds, ended up in Chapeltown and thought “I don’t fancy this”. Every inch the captain, with our squad we’ve needed our experienced players to stay fit and stay in form ever so badly. To a man they’ve done so, Eustace not least. Six goals added a hitherto unsuggested dimesion to his game, including that ridiculous scissor kick against Coventry which was the only goal we’d scored in front of the Rookery for an awfully long time. This is a man who renegotiated his contract at the start of last season to get games, and then turned down a much bigger club to stay on. That, on top of his last two seasons, surely cements legend status for the skipper.

Next Season: Current rumours have Derby sniffing around with a fee of £200k mentioned. The likeliest explanation, given Derby’s tiresome propensity to view themselves as some kind of sleeping giant rather than second division fodder, is a rumour designed to unsettle a player who spent a loan spell at Pride Park a couple of years ago. It’s not impossible, however, that Eustace might fancy one last move back towards his midlands roots. Only 31, injuries may have affected Eustace in the past but they’ve also meant that his legs have endured several seasons’ less than they might have by that age. Jenkins is the heir apparent in Eustace’s position, but his leadership would be tough to replace. We can’t afford to lose him just yet.

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Comments»

1. The Great Big O - 16/05/2011

Excellent stuff.

Wise, true and enjoyable to read.

Looking forward to the next few parts.

2. Marcus - 17/05/2011

Cheers Matt – am poised to comment substantively ….. as soon as you write something I disagree with even a little!

3. Tim Turner - 18/05/2011

I like the comment about ‘iconic right backs’. Since I’ve been supporting the Hornets we’ve had Duncan Welbourne, Sir Nigel Gibbs and now Lloydinho. The only left back to achieve that iconic status is Robbo (and I’m still hoping he’ll cement that status by coming back to us when the Premiership no longer wants him).

I guess the problem for Lee Hodson next season will the be same one he had this season, ie if Malky signs a proper left back (permanent or on loan) then Lee will be behind Lloydinho in the queue for a first-team place. If not, he may again have to play on the left, which isn’t ideal. But as you say, I’m sure he’ll give it his all, whatever happens.

Matt Rowson - 18/05/2011

I would have thought that Wilf Rostron more than qualifies as an iconic left back?

As regards Hodson… I’m sure you’re right, but I think Hodson would benefit from not HAVING to play every week, and we’d benefit from having options. I know you’re not suggesting that competition for places is a bad thing… but you can’t have options in the squad AND a shoe-in for every youngster can you…?

Jon Preston - 18/05/2011

The full back positions are a dilema and Hodson may have to bide his time. But remember that Nigel Gibbs was behind David Bardsley for 2-3 years and even had a go in midfield. Paul Robinson didn’t really come into his own until the Vialli era. Wilf was superb from day one but generally full backs have to learn their trade. So patience all, LH has time on his side and is at the one club who’ll give it to him.

Tim Turner - 19/05/2011

Fair comment. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if/when we start getting offers from other clubs for our youngsters. We naturally tend to see them as being in training to take over a first-team place from an older player – Jenkins from Eustace, Hodson from Doyley, etc – but they’re not going to wait for ever.

I was surprised to read the other day that Dale Bennett, for example, is 21. Unless he can force his way ahead of Taylor or Mariappa next season, you have to wonder whether he’d be better off elsewhere. And after all, our business model is to develop young players and sell them on.

But doubtless you’ll be covering all this in due course, so I’ll stop wittering on now.

jeremy clarkson - 18/05/2011

JC here

the chalk and cheese of full backs..Chopper Welbourne and the classier more forward going John Williams..class double act

made Chambers and Stewart look like Hansel and Gretal

4. NickB - 18/05/2011

Sorry to nitpick, but a shoe-in for every youngster might be both painful and distressing.

A shoo-in would be a lot kinder…

Matt Rowson - 18/05/2011

hrmph

5. CSpaceram - 21/05/2011

Came sniffing for some Eustace info and got “Derby’s tiresome propensity to view themselves as some kind of sleeping giant rather than second division fodder”.

I’ve banked that one mate!

Next season, when you come with your usual ‘lets do anything to get cheap free kicks in the final 3rd’ tactics, the gloves are coming off.

No doubt I’ll be back in touch for a write up if we do bag Eustace.

Cheers, CSpaceram

Matt Rowson - 21/05/2011

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Truth hurts, CSpaceram


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