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End of Term Report Part 6 31/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Over the crest, all downhill from here…

21- David Mirfin

The accepted wisdom, of course, is that Mirfin is a bit of a duffer.  Given a few games (four, all defeats) in the wake of Martin Taylor’s injury he certainly didn’t stake a strong claim with the result that Nosworthy’s signing wasn’t long in coming.  Packed off back to Scunthorpe on loan in January that would appear to have been that.  Except that by all accounts Mirfin impressed again at Glanford Park, contributing to Alan Knill’s side pulled away from the bottom of the third tier.  Yeah, OK, only the third tier.  But he’d looked very decent in the second tier against us last season too.  My theory is that Mirfin, in the model of the likes of Gavin Mahon, for example, needs to be playing to maintain his fitness – he’d looked slow during his run in October.  Which means he needs to be playing for a side in which he’s going to be a regular starter.

Next Season:  No doubt with half an eye on Aidy Mariappa’s future, Sean has reportedly informed Alan Knill that Mirfin will be with us next season. It would be… inconsistent of the manager’s approach thus far were he to go into next season with only two experienced centre-backs.  I’m yet to be convinced that a backup role suits Mirfin.

22- Sean Murray

Well, where to start. Actually… I’ve sort of written this piece already this summer, albeit in rather more words.  And what more do you need me to say?  It could be argued with some justification that Murray should have been introduced earlier to a side desperate for creativity from wide positions.  Whatever.  He came in, he was instantly vital in every meaning of the word, and the clock is already ticking.

Next Season:  Sean will be an absolute star.  Next season could plausibly be his only full season in yellow.  Let’s enjoy it.

23- Piero Mingoia

What do you say, on the basis of no match action?  Piero had a bit of first team involvement under Malky Mackay and looked neat and tidy but possessed neither pace nor physical presence.  You feared for him, frankly.  A loan to Brentford in January was quietly brought to a premature close without any suggestion of first team involvement at Griffin Park; he spent the end of the campaign with relegation-bound Hayes and Yeading United in the Blue Square Premier forming an unlikely midfield partnership with Jamie Hand.

Next Season: I wrote a year ago that Piero needed to either be better at what he does well, or work on his (largely physical) deficiencies.  We’ve been given no evidence of either.  Out of contract next summer, another for whom this will be a make or break season.  Has a lot of convincing to do, one suspects.

24- Matt Whichelow

I don’t think anyone would have predicted that.  Involved in 20-odd games last season, almost all of them to positive end, Matt was one big reason to be cheerful this time last year, a reason to look forward to the new season.  Positive, clever, inventive, with a couple of stunning finishes suggesting a poacher’s touch, this was the season in which Matt should have established himself in the first team squad. Instead, by all accounts, Matt came back from the summer… suggesting a rather lackadaisical attitude.  Dismay at his being loaned out to Exeter and Wycombe was tempered by each loan ending prematurely and ingloriously – albeit the bottom end of the third tier isn’t the easiest place for a young attacking player to make an impact.  A bubbly fifteen minutes at London Road was like hearing a song that you used to like but hadn’t heard for a while.

Next Season: One can only hope that Matt gives it some welly this summer.  If he doesn’t, he’s an idiot and we’re maybe better off out of it.  If he does, he might just remind us all of what we were missing last season.

25- Joe Garner

My Dad is convinced that Joe is about to embark on a goalscoring spree.  He’ll argue this until he’s blue in the face.  He’s been convinced of this all season.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Signed by Forest from Carlisle for a decent fee, Garner never quite established himself at the City Ground and it’s not difficult to see why;  he’s not quite anything really, he doesn’t perform any job well enough.  Clearly not a goalscorer, despite the feeling in Dad’s water, and despite his scoring record at Forest not being quite as non-existent as at Vicarage Road.  Kind of creative, occasionally has a game where he’ll look like a reasonable foil but isn’t clever enough and doesn’t do it often enough.  Has games where he runs himself into the ground but again, has games where he disappears so he’s not a workhorse.  Most of all he’s just not very likeable, and his willingness to take a tumble over tackles has become an in-joke.  Would be funnier, or easier to tolerate, if like previous Watford players with such a proclivity, there was a positive contribution to go with it.

Next Season: Garner has remained involved in matchday squads despite his inconsistent impact, but it’s inconceviable that he’ll remain as involved without contributing rather more.


End of Term Report Part 5 28/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

The Euros are coming, so I need to get a jiggy-on.  Here goes…

18 (#1) – Andi Weimann

Such a long time ago that his three games in September almost feel like a hangover from the previous campaign;  he joined for half a season, was injured initially and then started three games, none of which ending in defeat, before being recalled by Alex McLeish to cover injuries at Villa Park.  In as much as it’s possible to distinguish his performances this season from last, Weimann came across as industrious, physically and emotionally resilient, and unselfish, perhaps too unselfish. His departure felt like just another source of flux as our forward line redefined itself.

Next Season: Weimann’ s involvement in Villa’s side in the spring owed a lot to injuries;  it would be a surprise to see him start the new campaign as first choice.  Nonetheless, his future is clearly at the top level, and we shouldn’t expect to see him back at the Vic any time soon.

18 (#2) – Michael Kightly

Even on the strict understanding that this was only a month to gain match fitness, even after an awfully long time out with injury, the signing of Kightly was a coup.  One of Wolves’ key men in their promotion campaign three years earlier he had attracted plenty of interest from more established Premier League clubs, but a succession of injuries kept him off the pitch and moved him out of the limelight.  At Watford, even after securing his loan we got lucky.  That initial month was interrupted by injury, causing Kightly to miss four games (including the pivotal win over Peterborough). Had it not been, it’s questionable whether Wolves would have extended the loan and whether we’d have had the chance to see him play himself into devastating form.  Encouraging but bitty during his first month, his subsequent month-and-a-half were an absolute joy, culminating in memorable goals against Leeds and Doncaster at Vicarage Road. Back at Wolves, he was one of few Wolves players visibly swimming against the tide in their calamitous exit from the top flight.

Next Season:  Ståle Solbakken may be virtually new to English football (he did play half a dozen games for Joe Kinnear’s Wimbledon), but by all accounts he’s not an idiot.  Expect to see Kightly leading the charge at Molineux next season.

18 (#3) – Alex Kacaniklic

Less flamboyant than Kightly, Kacaniklic nonetheless had an indisputably positive impact on the side on his arrival from Fulham. In part his degree of impact betrays our paucity in wide attacking areas, Murray excepted… a threat on both flanks is so much more potent, so much harder to defend, than a one-sided opponent.  Tidy, assertive and occasionally frightening, it’s that “occasionally” word that’s the slight blot.  It’s not that Kacaniklic ever played badly, or even that he disappeared particularly… it’s just the suspicion that there was a little bit more that he had to give. Nonetheless, a significant benefit when we had him and a loss when, aggravatingly, he was recalled shortly after the close of the loan window.

Next Season:  (“We’ll just call you…”) Alex was given a smattering of involvement at Craven Cottage; given the activation of the recall clause, it would have been all the more irritating had he not.  Nonetheless, you’d be surprised if, with competition in wide positions from Kerim Frei amongst others, he was more than a fringe player at Craven Cottage next term.  Another loan, to a Birmingham or a Leicester, a side expected to challenge, feels a safer bet.

19- Prince Buaben

“Biscuit”, “Bobbins”, “The Prince”… a man of many nicknames and mispronounciations, Buaben was largely withheld from the side for the first couple of months of the season but involved almost continuously from then on.  His initial impact, with the Hogg/Eustace midfield struggling for an outlet, was wholly positive – his first start was that game against Peterborough, and we looked a whole lot more dangerous going forward thenceforth.   Nonetheless, the jury is probably still out on balance… neat, tidy, clever, Buaben nontheless participates in good performances rather than driving them as you hope an attacking central midfielder might and one goal from twenty-odd starts isn’t a great return.  He’s likeable though, you want him to do well;  his versatility is clearly an asset, and the team does seem to function rather better with him in it.

Next Season: With competition for a midfield slot presumably destined to increase with the return to fitness of Stephen McGinn, Buaben will need to become a little more assertive.  Flexible option to have on the bench, though.

20 (#1) – Marvin Sordell

My five year-old daughter got her first season ticket this season, a half-season effort.  Her first game of the season had had a build up;  45 minutes of a pre-season friendly was one thing, but we all know that the first “proper” game is a decisive thing.  Fortunately this was Peterborough, and the image of Rachie standing on the barrier screaming “Come on, Marvin!” as he lined up the penalty will stay etched on my memory.  So… Marvin’s departure three months later took a bit of explaining.  Wide-eyed wobbly disbelief (“So… he won’t be playing for Watford any more?”) gave way to pragmatism within thirty seconds (“I’ll just have to choose another favourite player, won’t I Daddy?”).  What Bolton will have discovered, of course, is that they have signed a striker of colossal raw ability without always having the (on-pitch) discipline that makes a player an effective part of a team.  This season he was the focal point of our attack simply because he had to be… quick, aggressive, our one reliable threat capable of finding a goal from nowhere and often picking things out for others, there’s still no escaping the fact that attackers of far less natural ability looked an awful lot more effective after he left (although the Murray factor is difficult to standardise for). Significantly also, the starkest indicator of the rebuilding job that Sean had to do, he was the final part of what was a plausible attacking four last season to be sold or move on within two transfer windows.

Next Season: Do you remember how Arsenal always looked better without Ian Wright in the side?  I’m sure Sordell wouldn’t mind the comparison or the career that Wright enjoyed; nonetheless, it’s significant that Arsenal didn’t win a League title with Wright until he was virtually on the way out and barely involved in 1997/98.  Whatever… Sordell will nonetheless score loads for Bolton next season.  Would have been more interesting to watch what would have happened had they stayed up.

20 (#2)- Marcello Trotta

Rarely can there have been as large a contrast between the clamour for a signing and the damp squib when he actually arrived.  Like an orchestral drum roll building up to a whoopee cushion.  Trotta arrived on loan following a prolific spell with Wycombe in League One.  He played an hour of the mauling by Southampton at Vicarage Road without either pulling up any trees or looking completely awful, was subbed, and that was pretty much that.  He was an unused sub for the next three fixtures during which we managed rather well without him – two wins and a good point at Upton Park – and he returned to Fulham to rather less of a fanfare than he arrived to.

Next Season: Trotta got a minute of Premier League action at the end of last season – surely the briefest top flight involvement of the campaign- but it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t altogether convincing in training at Vicarage Road.  Will need, one assumes, to do better.

End of Term Report Part 4 24/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

It’s still only May.  It’s still only May….

13- Rene Gilmartin

Not an altogether surprising development, Rene’s release.  It could be argued, with some justification, that he didn’t get much of a crack at the first team.  It was suggested, by those that were there, that he bore limited culpability for the heavy defeat at St Mary’s in his last outing for the Hornets.  But the fact that he got such a brief run after Dyche took the step of dropping Loach suggested that there wasn’t a great deal of confidence in him, either.  From the point where he joined Yeovil in November, ostensibly our backup keeper moving out on loan, recall clause or otherwise, the writing was on the wall.

Next Season: Rene will leave Watford at the end of his contract. Having earned some praise for his performances at Yeovil and Crawley, you’d hope and expect that he’ll get a deal with a lower division side.

14- Ross Jenkins

Here’s the thing.  Ross Jenkins is clearly a very talented young midfielder.  Tough, disciplined, with a bit of an evil streak, and the suggestion of versatility in his later performances under Malky Mackay.  Here’s the other thing.  Ross didn’t start a game last season after mid-August.  Injuries, as ever, interrupted his involvement but with two combative central midfielders impressing in the first team it’s unlikely that a clear run would have seen him much more involved.  This state of affairs would not have seen credible three years ago at the end of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, but Jenkins has started scarcely as many games since as he did in 2008/09.

Next Season: Still only 21, Jenkins is too good a player to write off; he has ten years on John Eustace, and Hogg will attract suitors.  The question is whether he is satisfied with his present lack of involvement.

15- Stephen McGinn

What is there to say, really?  As you were.  Above and beyond the length of the injury, a particular blow must have been not making it back to fitness in time to play a part.  Psychologically, just getting onto the pitch however briefly would surely have indicated that Stephen was back.  Now he goes into pre-season without that boost.  His competitive return will now be a minimum of eighteen months after the injury at Doncaster.

Next Season:  In Stephen’s absence, his impressive final six months of action have been talked up and expectation will be high at the start of next season. After such a long absence, however, the question is to what extent it’s reasonable to expect Stephen to come back the same player.

16- Michael Bryan

Michael Bryan, in retrospect, was almost a caricature.  A classic young winger with stereotypical good bits (quick feet, crowd on their feet) and bad bits (no strength on the ball, limited end product).  He had a couple of not entirely convincing bursts of first team action but his last senior action came in November 2010, and a half-season loan to Bradford saw him uninvolved from early November onwards.  His release was not a surprising development.

Next Season:  Given his lack of physical presence and, frankly, bottle, it’s difficult to see what Michael’s level is.  Abroad, perhaps, rather than down the pyramid where a more physical competition really wouldn’t suit him.

17- Dale Bennett

A quite extraordinary season for Dale Bennett.  On the face of it, a bit of a disappointment;  after a reasonable amount of involvement last year, despite the unshakeable obstacle of the Mariappa/Taylor centre-back partnership, the signings of Mirfin and then Nosworthy seemed to push Bennett back out of sight in the pecking order.  He was loaned to Brentford in January but it was Adam Thompson, loaned to the Bees earlier in the campaign, who went to Griffin Park for the rest of the season at the end of the transfer window.  Bennett then played twice for the first team;  a couple of minutes on the wing – on the wing – at the end of the mental win over Burnley.  And West Ham.  And that hour at Upton Park might have rescued Bennett’s Watford career.  Bennett has looked impressive in senior action before, but had blotted his copybook with a suggestion of nerves and the odd error.  Cast firmly back in the limelight at Upton Park thanks to Nyron Nosworthy’s illness, Bennett was an absolute monster for an hour in a pressure, high profile game before being forced off with injury, a tour de force eclipsed only by Sean Murray’s impudent goal. One hour of first team action in anything like his preferred position, and your perspective changes altogether.  A week or two later, Martin Taylor – who came off the bench to replace him – would have had the start and Dale’s outlook would have been completely different.

Next Season:  If Mariappa leaves, Dale is the quick option at the back. Out of contract in July 2013, it’s make or break next season.

End of Term Report Part 3 21/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

9- Troy Deeney

Amidst the whirlwind of another season of high player turnover and squad rebuilding, not to mention the emergence of Sean Murray, it’s easy to overlook quite how much Troy Deeney’s stock has risen in the past twelve months.  His form had held up as well as anyone’s as the team wobbled at the end of last season, but he was being fielded in an unnatural-feeling wide midfield position. His lack of goals seemed to prohibit his involvement in his preferred role and although he put in a good shift out wide, it hardly seemed likely that a glut of goals from that position was on its way to see him restored to the centre.  After the summer departure of Danny Graham, Chris Iwelumo’s arrival meant that Deeney’s route to his preferred position was still blocked.  Regularly involved from the bench, Troy only started a handful of games before winning his place back decisively in mid-December.  The landmark event in Troy’s season, arguably, was the sale of Marvin Sordell;  it was intimated that Troy didn’t find Marvin the easiest striker to play alongside.  Coincidence or not, Troy scored an unprecedented 9 goals in 17 starts after Sordell’s departure, secured third place in the Player of the Season vote and in the remarkable, dramatic goal of the season against Ipswich, once again drew comparison with his erstwhile Walsall strike partner, Tommy Mooney.

Next Season: based on his on-field activity, Troy is nailed on for a starting place and finally looks the part without any need for caveat or qualification.

10- Chris Iwelumo

A season of two halves and no mistake.  Iwelumo initially looked like a decent coup; a beast of a striker who always caused us problems as an opponent and had established a career with clubs that hovered between the top two tiers.  It’s fair to say that he didn’t hit the ground running;  a pre-season injury at Wimbledon interrupted his build-up, and although he was deemed fit to be named in the starting eleven at Turf Moor on the opening day he made limited impact early in the campaign.  Hampered by a lack of mobility and of an apparent inability to get off the ground he was ultimately all but written off in the eyes of most, a name to add to the catalogue of failed target men at Vicarage Road with the likes of Trevor Senior and Kerry Dixon.  So it stayed, pretty much, the nagging suspicion that there had to be more to Big Chris dismissed with that cover-all for all older players out of form, “his legs have gone”.  Folk were saying the same about John Eustace two years ago, they were wrong then too.  Whether it was missing pre-season, whether it was needing games to play himself into fitness, Big Chris’ form came back with a vengeance.  It started slowly, with an industrious showing at home to Leicester.  At Upton Park he was indisputably impressive, a significant part of a fine team performance.  Against Coventry we used the adjective “nimble” for the first time.  And the highlight was a simply monstrous afternoon at Elland Road, where he was everything we had hoped he could be.

Next Season: Chris undoubtedly turned his form around, but as one of the club’s bigger earners he still goes down as a disappointment on balance. If he prolongs his end of season form for an entire campaign, we’ll be forgetting we ever doubted him.

11- Craig Forsyth

Some players look the part straight away.  Others need time before it all comes together;  in the meantime they can present a frustrating mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.  Richard Johnson, in his early years, was one such before he emerged as the awesome pendulum of a side that won back-to-back promotions.  Jamie Hand was a similar to Johnson at a young age but never pulled it together.  Dominic Foley was a striker of occasionally sublime poise and vision who on other occasions looked like a baby giraffe on roller skates.  Craig Forsyth is a different style of player to all three… but echoes them in his combining things that are quite wonderful – physical presence, tidy control, that shot – with things that really aren’t, yet.  But he’s only 23, and younger in a sense than Jonathan Hogg, say, who is a similar age in years but has had a starkly contrasting upbringing with a Premier League club as opposed to Dundee in the semi-pro Scottish First Division. Additionally, as Graham Taylor was always keen to emphasise, tall blokes can take a few years to grow into their physique;  Ross Jenkins Sr and Peter Crouch two obvious examples who made limited impact in their early twenties (I’m 6’1 and still waiting for my body strength to catch up…). Lack of street-wiseness is Craig’s biggest problem;  at his worst, and actually that second half against Leicester was pretty bad until right at the end, he’s looked every inch the rookie thrown in at the deep end.  But there’s clearly stuff their to work with;  five goals in seventeen starts showcasing a venomous shot will buy him time, one hopes, even if he did dangerous things to expectations with that fine early header at Burnley.  One has to hope that the crowd afford him time.  Even Johnno spent a good year or so fully emerged from his chrysalis before getting the appreciation his performances had long deserved.

Next Season: Craig only started three games from the beginning of November onwards, demonstrating Sean’s stated belief that he’s one for the future.  Work in progress.

12- Lloyd Doyley

There’s a challenge in finding new things to say about Lloyd.  Solid, check.  Reliable, check.  Quick, defensively outstanding, less convincing going forward, that goal, check, check, check.  In actual fact his form, in a season that straddles his testimonial year, hasn’t held out quite so reliably as in previous seasons but Lloyd is and remains a colossal asset to the side and the squad.  He deserves the Spurs game, and deserves it to go well.

Next Season: I interviewed all but one (guess) of Lloyd’s previous managers in conjunction with his testimonial season.  Several of them wrote him off prematurely, in different ways and for different reasons, and were forced to revise their judgement.  All were effusive in their praise for him as a player and a man.  They would be, I suppose, but it felt genuine in every instance.  Sean Dyche the most gushing of all.  More of the same please, Lloyd.

End of Term Report Part 2 17/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

No Lloyd, then.  Hodgson out.

5- Martin Taylor

It’s hard to believe that many second tier squads can match the Hornets for centre-back strength and cover at this point in time.  Three strong, senior, experienced men going for two places, and in Bennett, Thompson (surely) and Hoban, a lot of potential bubbling under.  Despite which, it’s hugely heartening to have Martin Taylor’s name on a contract again, albeit only a year’s extension.  Whilst the recruitment of Nosworthy mitigated against the effects of his injury last season, you nonetheless noticed his presence immediately when back in the side.  Commanding, calm, comfortable in possession, he still feels like a bit of a steal, as if sooner or later the Premier League will notice that we smuggled him off whilst their backs were turned and come looking.  With his new contract expiring as he approaches his 34th birthday, the Premier League may come looking too late. One can’t help but feel that it’s his inherent niceness, his refusal to bully his opponent, that denied him a further opportunity at the top level.

Next Season:  Dependent on Mariappa’s future, either a fixture or part of an almighty tussle for a starting place.

6- Adrian Mariappa

Player of the Season by a country mile by any reckoning, it seems extraordinary that not so long ago folk were still arguing that he might be better employed as a full-back.  Astonishingly consistent, not least during January when rumours rattled around about his future and Alan Pardew (manager of the year, but still an odious wanker) tried to turn his head northwards without going to the trouble of making an offer, at times Mariappa’s performance was simply on a different plane to those around him.  His acceleration, anticipation and leadership were such that he made it all look horribly easy, like a lad playing with his kid brother’s mates.  My earliest vivid memory of Mariappa was of him frustrated and inconsolable following the defeat of the U18 side that he captained to the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup.  His tears were not for himself, quite obviously, but for his team, a leader and a winner even then.  Logic dictates that centre-back is the department in which we are best able to lose a star man.  You’d rather it wasn’t Mariappa, undoubtedly the best complement to either of his senior rivals… but alas, big bucks only tend to get paid for your better players.

Next Season: It would be nice to imagine that Adrian might still be around in August.  If he is,  none of the scouts in the Premier League are doing their jobs.

7- Mark Yeates

The problem isn’t that Yeates didn’t create goals for people.  It’s clear from the Helping Hands article that he did just that, and on more occasions that anyone else.  The problem was that the team just didn’t function very well with Yeates in it, or rather didn’t function with him carrying such a creative burden early in the season.  Yeates created goals, particularly but not exclusively from set pieces.  But we just didn’t score very many of them.  We didn’t pin teams back, we didn’t frighten them enough that they worried about committing players forward themselves.  Harsh to hold Yeates solely responsible for that, but the stats do lie in this case; ultimately Mark has been a disappointment, too often a passenger, too often ineffective.  Although it feels as if he hung around the squad for much of the season despite the emergence of Sean Murray, he only actually saw match time in three games following the youngster’s reintroduction against Spurs in January: once when Murray was injured, and twice following the unscheduled departure of Alex Kacaniklic.  When Prince Buaben showed signs of being able to function effectively out wide, Yeates was dropped like a stone and didn’t even make the squad for the last five games of the season.

Next Season: The story is that Yeates turned down an extended Spurs contract when he chose to sign for Colchester five years ago.  After a few false starts since, he needs to establish himself somewhere badly.  It looks dreadfully unlikely to happen at Vicarage Road.

8- Josh Walker

There’s no more to say than there was last season, really.  Despite owning a “first eleven” shirt for two seasons, Josh never started a League game for Watford.  A celebrated former skipper of a successful Middlesbrough Youth team, reportedly signed by Malky Mackay in the face of competition, the suggestion is that Walker needed rather too much time on the ball.  It’s a suggestion that the majority of Watford fans never got to evaluate themselves.

Next Season: Josh signed for Scunthorpe in January, effectively;  the rule that prohibits being turning out for more than two clubs in a season (he had already been loaned to Stevenage and played an hour or so for us over two games) could only be navigated by taking advantage of the absurd interpretation of emergency loans, which are exempt from this rule.  His formal transfer takes place on July 1st.  You feel obliged to wish him well, but he never left enough of an impression for that to be heartfelt.

End of Term Report Part 1 14/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Partly thanks to the fact that the last game I went to was Brighton it feels as if the season ended months ago, and yet, as I write, the Premier League still has a set of fixtures to play.  Better get on with this, before my daughters bury me in allotment mud in their frantic search for potatoes and I forget all about it.  Last season’s effort begins at the foot of the May 2011 pages, if you’re so inclined.

1 – Scott Loach

Nothing like starting with an easy one, is there?  Scott followed a season in which he was called into the England squad despite facing local criticism with another that didn’t go entirely smoothly.  Whilst acknowledging again that a goalkeeper’s mistakes tend to be painfully visible, it’s reasonable to conclude that Scott is currently some distance from the national squad.  Loach was briefly dropped – for the first time in his senior career – during the first half of the season, and was then displaced by loan signing Tomasz Kuszczak before coming back strongly in the final game of the campaign.  Whilst it might be argued that you don’t turn down the opportunity to bring in a player of Kuszczak’s quality and experience if it’s possible to do so, it’s nonetheless difficult to believe that we would have signed the Pole if Loach had been on top of his game. Of particular concern, more  than the fact that a still-young goalkeeper was making mistakes, was both the nature of those mistakes and the impact that they appeared to have on the defence in front of him.  Errors of concentration more than bad judgement or physical deficiencies;  on the one hand, the sort of thing that can be ironed out… on the other, why is he making them at all? David James had similar problems in his earlier career of course, but James’ peaks were much higher than Loach’s, and his mistakes perhaps more tolerable as a consequence.  That his defence appeared to have lost confidence in him, with angry words exchanged on more than one occasion, meant that something probably had to happen.  Whether this results in Scott reclaiming his position as first choice or sees him move on is a pretty open question at the time of writing.

Next Season: a tipping point, I think.  Scott will either be sold, or definitively reclaim his first choice mantle.  Difficult to see much scope for anything in between.

2- Lee Hodson

The mantle of Most Neglected Youngster, a recurring theme throughout the season on this site and elsewhere, probably rested here when the music stopped.  Whilst Hodson’s emergence marked him out as an exciting prospect in previous seasons there was always a suggestion of vulnerability that went hand-in-hand with all the good stuff.  2010/11 saw him come through some iffy form a defiantly better player;  this year’s performances suggested that his susceptibility to aerial attack had been all but eradicated. Repeatedly during Lee’s four mid-season months in the first team picture teams would target him with crossfield balls to a big bloke bombing in at the far post.  Time and again he stood up to this challenge.  Admittedly we weren’t doing too badly in his absence at the end of the campaign, and it’s also interesting that for all Lee’s supposed attacking prowess his crosses laid on one solitary goal for the second season in succession.  Nonetheless, such was the strength of his performances that it’s difficult to understand how he isn’t nailed on for a starting position, with Doyley and Dickinson competing for the left back slot.

Next Season:  Established first-choice right-back.

3- Carl Dickinson

I must confess to having been quite excited by this signing. A proper left-back with a tough reputation, popular at his previous club (if not necessarily so at all the sides who had earlier borrowed him) here was ostensibly someone capable of filling the Robbo-shaped hole in the squad vacated some eight years earlier. That suggestion lasted no longer than a bizarre show-stealing opening-day performance at Turf Moor which saw Dickinson caught flat-footed on any number of occasions and spend much of the first half seemingly shouting at himself.  His recovery in that game anticipated his recovery during the season;  early on there was much anxiety at his propensity to be exposed by a quick winger, a belief that his performances on the pitch didn’t really qualify him for the fist-waving rabble-rousing role he clearly fancies.  He dug in though, and became less of a conspicuous weak-spot as the season progressed.

Next Season:  Carl’s best consistent form in 2011/12 was passable, but no more.  Will be under pressure for his starting spot.

4- John Eustace

Player of the Season runner-up or otherwise, there’s a danger of underestimating the value of John Eustace.  The leadership, the drive are the characteristics that automatically spring to mind, but are too easily taken for granted, a great big hole if he wasn’t there.  This season, more than previously, we’ve also seen evidence of a surprising versatility;  initially fielded as the more defensive partner in the take-no-crap midfield pairing with Hogg, the whole thing worked much more convincingly when they switched roles and Eustace chipped in with a few goals – ten over the last two seasons.  John will be 33 in November, but having missed several years through injury earlier in his career his legs might have more left in them than his age would suggest.  Having stayed at Vicarage Road on at least two occasions over the past four-and-a-half years when his time appeared to be up, we can but hope that a new deal is in the offing for the club captain.  A hugely significant member of the side.

Next Season: More of the same, and hopefully a new deal.

Helping Hands 2011/2012 08/05/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1 comment so far

Here we are again.

As a prelude, I should emphasise that I find defining a player’s value on the basis of a statistic, or even a set of statistics, utterly abhorrent.  It’s a bit like pretending that a musical score is as beautiful as the music performed, or explaining the beauty of a summer morning by quantifying the temperature and wind speed.

So, perhaps not desirable.  Not terribly effective either.  Think about defining a striker in terms of goals scored, perhaps the simplest, most pertinent summary of any (subset of) players’ performance.  Even then you need to qualify through games played, a strike “rate” if you like.  But even when comparing players at the same club, that figure doesn’t account for how the player was used, which sides they were selected against and who they partnered, who was injured, who else was on form.  Scott Fitzgerald scored 10 goals in 28+16 league appearances in 2003/04, Danny Graham 14 in 37+9 six seasons later.  A similar strike rate, but the backstory could hardly be more different – Fitzgerald, a poacher with astonishing acceleration who contributed nothing elsewhere on the pitch, Danny Graham through his movement, workrate, awareness, a vital cog even when he wasn’t scoring.

The more so for any other statistic you could choose to summarise.  “Assists”, for example.  So… not desirable, not effective.  But not completely irrelevant either.  the trick with this as any stat is knowing where to draw the line, knowing how not to overinterpret.

Because despite all the qualifiers above and despite having heard this mentioned at various points during the season, it’s pretty extraordinary to note Mark Yeates’ contribution in this respect.  The more so when you note that all 11 assists came by the 7th January, although admittedly his involvement was more spasmodic as the season progressed.  The Scott Fitzgerald of lumping crosses in, perhaps?  Without being harsh on Mark, it’s difficult to reconcile this table with the popular evaluation of his contribution.

Only a little less surprising is Marvin Sordell’s elevated position.  Not a deliverer of set pieces, unlike Yeates, he nonetheless racked up 7 assists over a similar period rather disputing the occasional suggestion of selfishness in assessments of the young striker’s contribution.  Circumstances, form, whatever… Bolton’s scant use of their January recruit remains a little surprising.

Less of a surprise altogether is Sean Murray’s prominence despite only breaking into the side at the end of January.  Immediately significant in creating and scoring goals, giving us a terrifyingly reliable delivery from set pieces and a bit of devil around the box as well as contributing a healthy number of goals himself, every Hornet will be hoping he tops this table next season.

At the opposite extreme, a number of players with surprisingly limited contribution.  Michael Kightly only weighing in with one, a simple lay-off for Carl Dickinson’s blockbuster against Bristol City – perhaps illustrating the limit to the value of the statistic perfectly, since nobody would question the value of the winger’s contribution.

Chris Iwelumo and Jonathan Hogg are two who didn’t manage an assist between them;  Iwelumo’s contribution is often in the number of defenders he drags around with him, nonetheless it’s a little surprising that he didn’t set up a single goal in the season just gone, whilst Hogg, astonishingly, managed neither a goal nor an assist from virtually a full season in central midfield and yet, one assumes, did rather well in the Player of the Season voting despite not making the top three.  Perhaps he needs a change in squad number – the only goal in the 32 drifts ever longer into the past…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Yeates 11 30+6 3 Rdg (A), Bar (A), HuC (A), HuC (A), PeU (H), Por (H), BrC (H), Ips(A), DoR (H), BfC (H), BfC (H)
Sordell 7 28+1 10 Bur (A), Bur (A), BiC (H), PeU (H), LeU (H), CaC (H), BfC (H)
Murray 6 18+1 7 Bar (H), NoF (A), LeC (H), Bur (H), LeU (A), CaC (A)
Kacaniklic 4 11+1 1 Mwl (A), Mwl (A), DeC (A), DeC (A)
Deeney 4 31+15 12 DoR (H), Rdg (H), LeU (A), Mbo (H)
Eustace 3 37+5 4 BfC (H), LeC (H), HuC (H)
Garner 2 15+9 1 Bar (H), Bur (H)
Forsyth 2 17+5 5 BrR (A), Mbo (H)
Buaben 2 22+10 1 PeU (H), BHA (A)
Weimann 1 3 0 BiC (H)
Kightly 1 11+1 3 BrC (h)
Hodson 1 20 0 DoR (h)
Dickinson 1 40+1 2 BrC (a)
James 0 0+1 0
Whichelow 0 0+3 0
Massey 0 0+4 0
Trotta 0 1 0
Bennett 0 1+1 0
Bond 0 1+1 0
Walker 0 1+1 0
Beattie 0 1+3 1
Assombalonga 0 2+2 0
Gilmartin 0 3 0
Mirfin 0 4+1 0
Jenkins 0 4+5 0
Kuszczak 0 13 0
Taylor 0 20+2 1
Iwelumo 0 21+18 4
Loach 0 32 0
Nosworthy 0 34 2
Doyley 0 36 0
Mariappa 0 40+2 1
Hogg 0 41 0

Check out the 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents for details of what “qualifies” as an assist by my reckoning.

The annual “School Report” feature follows shortly…