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Season Preview 2011-12 Part 6 04/08/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Nearly through now folks, thanks for sticking with it…

READING

INS: Mikele Leigertwood (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Bongani Khumalo (Tottenham Hotspur, Season Loan)

OUTS: Ben Hamer (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Matt Mills (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Scott Davies (Crawley Town, Free), Ivar Ingimarsson (Ipswich Town, Free), Julian Kelly (Notts County, Free), David Mooney (Leyton Orient, Free), James Rowe (Forest Green Rovers, Free), Abdulai Bell-Baggie, Danny Joyce, Carl McHugh (Dundalk, Loan)

OUR EX-ROYALS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nigel Gibbs (Assistant Manager), Brynjar Gunnarsson, Jobi McAnuff

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two mundane draws, in contrast to recent seasons’ Rodgers and Attwell-induced excitement. Troy Deeney (our place) and Andi Weimann (theirs) were the Watford goalscorers in two 1-1 ties.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Federici
Griffin        Pearce        Khumalo         Harte
Kebe      Leigertwood      Karacan       McAnuff
Long          Hunt

VERDICT: Ultimately disappointment for Reading last time round after another late surge took them into the play-offs at the expense, entertainingly enough, of Leeds United.  I can’t have been the only Hornet imploring the Royals to go long (that’s long, small l, not Long, big L) as they fell dramatically behind at Wembley;  Swansea rocked and creaked as soon as we started lumping balls into the box at Vicarage Road last season, falling just short of an unlikely comeback ourselves.  The Royals got two goals back, both from corners, but didn’t have a big man to aim for and fell just short.

Since then centre-back Mills has departed and Shane Long looks likely to follow – prolific strikers are too rare a thing for someone not to take a punt, West Brom and West Ham having been linked with an interest so far.  Given these departures, and the loss of loan players, Reading look significantly weaker with a fairly old first team – although in the likes of Robson-Kanu, Cummings and McCarthy there are younger players on the fringes of the first eleven.  The Royals look vulnerable defensively, with a lack of cover at centre back as I write and Ian Harte in particular, never the quickest in his younger days, increasingly exposed by a tricky winger.  There’s too much savvy in that management team to allow Reading to struggle, but I can’t see a play-off challenge again.  Mid-table.

SOUTHAMPTON

INS: Jack Cork (Chelsea, Undisclosed), Steve de Ridder (De Graafschaap, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Tony Garrod (Farnborough, Free), Callum McNish (Exeter City, Free), Anthony Pulis (Aldershot Town, Free), Sam Argent, Ryan Tafazolli

OUR EX-SAINTS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: David Connolly, Jack Cork

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Aidy Boothroyd’s last win, a 3-0 triumph in Hampshire during which Jack Cork turned out for Southampton, and a 2-2 at home in which the Saints equalised late, Cork was playing in yellow and Andrej Stepanovs set a record with the shortest Watford career in history.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Davis
Butterfield         Fonte          Martin          Harding
Chamberlain         Cork          Chaplow         Lallana
Lambert          Connolly

VERDICT: There’s no guarantee, of course, that a drop into the third tier after a long spell in the top two divisions will see a side bounce back in rude health within a year or two.  Any number of counter-examples exist;  Oldham Athletic for one, who after 24 years in the top two divisions boasting a couple of FA Cup semi finals and a League Cup final defeat to Forest dropped into the third tier for what might have been a brief sojourn in 1997.  They’re still there.

The Saints, however, have overcome the combined obstacles of relegation, administration, near-bankruptcy, a points deduction and Alan Pardew to return to the second tier at the second time of asking.  The Saints’ saviour was Swiss benefactor  Markus Liebherr, who passed away at the start of last season without seeing his investment result in promotion. Southampton may have made a limited number of (nonetheless impressive) additions this summer, but spent heavily over the eighteen months prior to promotion.  The side looks well-balanced, supplemented by a famously prolific youth policy and if a centre-back is recruited as planned they look to have decent options in every position.  That’s not to say that we won’t continue our fine recent run against them – six wins, a draw and 22 goals scored against the Saints in seven games since the 2003 FA Cup semi – but they should have enough to finish comfortably mid-table.  Eleventh.

WEST HAM UNITED

INS: Matt Taylor (Bolton Wanderers, £2,200,000), Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Abdoulaye Faye (Stoke City, Free), Joey O’Brien  (Bolton Wanderers, Free)

OUTS: Manuel da Costa (Lokomotiv Moscow, £1,300,000), Demba Ba (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Radoslav Kovac (Basel, Undisclosed), Luis Boa Morte (Larissa, Free), Kieron Dyer (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Anthony Edgar (Yeovil Town, Free), Holmar Eyjolfsson (VfL Bochum, Free), Danny Gabbidon (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City, Free), Thomas Hitzlsperger, Lars Jacobsen, Filip Modelski, Adam Street, Matthew Upson, Jordan Spence (Bristol City, Season Loan)

OUR EX-HAMMERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Andy Rolls (Physiotherapist)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: After an extraordinary 21-game winless run against the Hammers spanning 22 years, we’ve won each of the last three encounters 1-0. Most recently, Hayden Mullins’ own goal gave us a Carling Cup victory three years ago.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Green
O’Brien             Faye           Tomkins          Ilunga
Barrera        Collison       Nolan           Noble          Taylor
Cole

VERDICT: It would, most impartial observers would agree, be quite funny if West Ham didn’t get promoted.  It’s not that the Hammers stand out as the most unpleasant of our contemporaries;  whatever your particular prejudices I don’t suspect that, this coming season, you’d struggle to find three of this season’s opponents that you’d wish relegation on, or a plague of frogs or something similar.  As a friend pithily observed earlier in the week, “What a disgusting division we are in”.

The unholy trinity are a notoriously difficult circus act to warm to, of course (even if one of them does appear on The Apprentice and must therefore be “well cool”).  And you’ve got the whole Olympic Stadium thing, difficult not to sympathise with Orient in those circumstances given that rules limiting relocation to another club’s patch seem to carry a “unless you really want to” waiver.  And there’s all those years of indistinguishable 1-0 defeats. But in particular,  the strategy embodied by the decision to award Kevin Nolan, 29, a five-year contract.  At a reported £65k per week.  Good grief.  Nolan’s a fine player by our division’s standards, played a big role in Newcastle’s cake walk two years ago, but that’s a crazy, reckless contract for a top flight club to offer.  Almost contemptuous.

West Ham are going to be promoted, quite clearly.  For a blueprint, see QPR last season;  a side that was always reasonably pretty but lightweight and occasionally flimsy appointed against type in Neil Warnock. An odd fit, intuitively, but a perfect one as it turned out;  Warnock brought in his trolls to give QPR a tough spine, a bit of nasty.  Allardyce is a similarly incongruous appointment for West Ham, not obviously a West Ham sort of manager at all.  But he’s already brought in some grit (particularly, as won’t have escaped your notice, former charges from Bolton, although Matt Taylor was recruited by Gary Megson six months after Allardyce’s departure)… and the squad he inherits suddenly looks so strong that you wonder how they managed to be relegated at all, even if one assumes the departure of Scott Parker.  Joey O’Brien in particular will prove a corking signing if he is over his injury problems, Jack Collison is back from the injury that all but ruled him out of last season, and there are, as ever, good kids all over the place.  Up there with Leicester, everyone else a long way behind.

And finally…

WATFORD

INS: Carl Dickinson (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Craig Forsyth (Dundee, Undisclosed), Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, Undisclosed), Mark Yeates (Sheffield United, Undisclosed), Prince Buaben (Dundee United, Free), David Mirfin (Scunthorpe United, Free)

OUTS: Danny Graham (Swansea City, £3,500,000), Will Buckley (Brighton & Hove Albion, £1,000,000), Don Cowie (Cardiff City, Free), Nathan Ellington (Ipswich Town, Free), Liam Henderson (York City, Free), Mat Sadler (Walsall, Free), Tom Aldred (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Six Month Loan), Rob Kiernan

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Loach
Doyley        Mariappa          Taylor         Dickinson
Yeates           Eustace         Buaben        Forsyth
Iwelumo         Sordell

VERDICT: So. The most important bit, then.  And as ever, the hardest bit to write, given that, firstly, it’s far less acceptable to present glib generalisations in this section;  secondly, a far greater consciousness of the many pros and cons to weigh up;  thirdly, my two-year old daughter is in mid-tantrum having not napped during this hot, humid day and is slapping me as I type.  Ignoring her so far…

A summer of ups and downs, it’s fair to say.  You might argue there have been more downs than ups, more significant ones.  I dunno.  Perhaps so.  But Graham was always going to go, and Mackay’s move wasn’t a huge surprise much as it was disappointing.  The loss of Don Cowie was a bolt from the blue, and Julian Winter’s departure depressing and alarming in equal measure.  On the pitch though… Cowie’s the one, the one that doesn’t fit the mould.  Selling Graham, and to a lesser extent Buckley, surely fits the plan… buy them young and talented, bring them on, sell them on.  Graham had outgrown us, Buckley will need to get his shit together to an unprecedented extent to make £1m feel like a bad deal.  If we think it’s a good model (and I think it’s a great model) then you bite the bullet when the time comes.

On the upside, retaining Dyche was a huge plus on several levels.  One might argue that he was always going to accept a manager’s job having been offered it, but if Mackay really felt the need to bail out rather than merely moving his career on, as he saw it, then one might have expected Dyche to jump ship also.  He didn’t, so we keep a man who was clearly no wallflower in the previous management structure, has a long-standing knowledge of the club and who sounds as if he’s been dining on exhausts.  Big tick.  Another to commit himself to the club was John Eustace, a massive plus and testimony again to the way things were going.  Eustace clearly had options, Derby publicly pursued him and he still lives in the midlands.  He stayed, so we retain our leader on the pitch.  Perhaps the biggest signing of the summer.  Others extended or signed new contracts, Thompson, Massey…  tick, tick.  Not to be taken for granted.

And then the recruits.  We’ve not had a mass influx like this since Aidy Boothroyd’s  dramatic first summer in charge, and if we don’t obviously have a goalscorer to replace Graham or as complete a midfielder as Don Cowie, we’re surely stronger throughout the squad for numbers.  There’s a trend too… it’s not so very long ago, the first half of Malky’s first season before Martin Taylor’s arrival, that we didn’t have a six footer outfield and were looking a little lightweight, much as we moved the ball well.  No danger of that this season, with Iwelumo, Mirfin and Dickinson in particular all providing some physical presence that the side has previously been short of.  It’s difficult to compare ins with outs on the whole;  the outs were known quantities, the ins by definition are not.  But as far as it goes… Iwelumo and Dickinson in particular look great catches, filling big and (in Dickinson’s case in particular) long-standing holes in the squad.  The others all give us options in areas we needed options.  Tick, tick, tick.  The kidz… Jenkins, Thompson, Sordell, Whichelow, Mingoia, Bennett, Hodson, Deeney, Bryan, Oshodi; youngsters with a season’s worth more experience in or around the squad.  This will make them better players.  Murray, Massey, Isaac, Assombalonga, Bond, Mensah maybe aren’t too far behind.  We’ve lost some key men, sure.  But we’re breeding our own, and these guys need space to grow.  We maybe need a striker as it stands, but I don’t look at our squad and think “christ, how are we going to get through this”.  How mant of that first list of kids do you look at and think “he won’t make it” ?  People will have their own opinions on individuals… but not many,  I’d guess.  That’s a hell of a reflection on how we bring on our youngsters (even if, admittedly, Deeney was brought in from outside).

How will we do?  Do you know, I almost don’t care.  No, that’s not true.  I want us to win every game we play, I rock up as we all do at Vicarage Road, Turf Moor, wherever, desperate for us to beat whoever we’re playing.  But we finished fourteenth last season, and it was brilliant.  There’s a fallacy, rolled out whenever an administrator or chairman is defending decisions that lead to overspending, which goes that pressure comes from fans who “always want to watch their team win”.  Yeah, they do.  But “watching their team” is more important, when it comes down to it.  I really enjoyed watching our team last season.  The number of kids we’ve got coming through, not just paying lip service to bringing kids on, is brilliant.  With that comes a patience with players on the part of the support – not everyone of course, there’s always an idiot.  But people are supportive of the kids they’ve brought through.  They’re part of our fabric, to a greater extent.  I love that.

For what it’s worth, I think we’ll do just fine.  We’re not going to win the league, clearly.  OK.  But I don’t think we’re going to struggle either.  That line up above doesn’t look like one to mess with to me, and there’s cover now, players in every department with experience.  Our players, our experience.  Bring it on.

That’s it.  See you at Turf Moor…

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Comments»

1. JohnF - 04/08/2011

I agree with what you say Matt but I think the big question for us will be where the goals come from. Theoretically there are goals throughout the team, although the defenders need to weigh in with a few more at set pieces. However, we know how form varies and a good start will be important to build confidence that is so crucial for strikers. .

2. Mark T - 04/08/2011

Matt,

I think someone shoud cut and paste your last couple of paragrpahs about what it is like to watch a team like Watford and share with those who think their club is ‘too good for this division’ or ‘just need to spend some money’. Thank goodness for a ‘proper’ supporter…

3. NickB - 04/08/2011

Looks like Reading are going to have a Long Hunt for goals.

Where’ve I put that coat…

Matt Rowson - 04/08/2011

very poor.

4. Ian Lay - 04/08/2011

Big thanks to Matt for all his hard work putting the season preview together. Always a great read. I think you were right in splitting it up into 6 parts. Made it easier to digest.

I think with all the ins and outs we’ve had since the end of the season, mid-table will be pretty good and I’d take that now if someone offered it.

Ian

5. David, Aylesbury - 04/08/2011

Further to comment 2 from Mark T, Matt’s last couple of paragraphs summed up for me exactly why this website is so bloody brilliant as well as what being a Watford supporter is all about.

Great preview – now let’s bring on the new season !

6. MartinG - 04/08/2011

Thanks for the preview Matt. An interesting read throughout. I’m less confident than you about our chances. I think we’ve a tough start and if it goes wrong heads could drop. But I’ll be very happy to be proved incorrect and will be there through thick and thin regardless.

7. Jeremy Clarkeson - 05/08/2011

Mr Matt
Great piece of work, get McGinn back, Thompson in team and Deeney/Sordell playing the DG role and we could have a class of 83 all over again … there are plenty of teams worse than us and only a couple that on paper look better

JC

8. Roger68 - 10/08/2011

Jeremy–no, I do not agree. I can see a dozen teams clearly better than we are (more experienced manager, more quality in the squad, bigger resources to deal with set-backs or to capitalise on a good start) and only a couple I would see us as favourites to beat at this stage of the season. The first five games look very hard–if we get three points out of 15 I will be surprised. The new signings look like journeymen–a supporting cast in search of a star –though Forsyth may turn out to be a saleable asset. The best point about the new signings is that they bring depth to the squad, which will be useful when the going gets tough.

Matt Rowson - 11/08/2011

Harsh, Roger. I think JC was getting carried away too, but don’t share your assessment of our squad (or of our chances over the first five games)


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