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Season Preview Part 6 16/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Final instalment…

PETERBOROUGH UNITED

INS: Tyrone Barnett (Crawley Town, £1,100,000), Shaun Brisley (Macclesfield Town, £300,000), Robert Olejnik (Torquay United, £300,000), Michael Bostwick (Stevenage, Undisclosed), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Wolves, Undisclosed), Jonson Clarke-Harris (Coventry City, Free), Nat Knight-Percival (Wrexham, Free), Danny Swanson, Dundee United, Free)

OUTS: David Ball (Fleetwood Town, Undisclosed), Paul Jones (Crawley Town, Free), Joe Lewis (Cardiff City, Free), Nathan Ralph (Yeovil Town, Free), Danny Mills

OUR EX-POSH: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: The pivotal match of the season, a 3-2 victory at Vicarage Road on an early Family Day that precipitated a much needed run of form up to Christmas, and an eventful 2-2 at London Road in the last away trip of the campaign.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Olejnik
Little         Zakuani        Brisley       Alcock
Bostwick     McCann
Boyd                  Swanson            Taylor
Barnett

VERDICT: Posh will inevitably be amongst the names talked about for the drop, but there’s quality here and Darren Ferguson has been very active in the transfer market – with a bizarre penchant for double-barrelled surnames.  Slightly surprisingly both Paul Taylor and George Boyd remain at the time of writing (although Taylor remains transfer-listed having turned down a new contract), and nobody’s doing the lower-league diamond-polishing thing with greater conviction than Peterborough.  You’ve got to worry about a side that plays such an open game… you kinda feel that the goals are more likely to dry up at the one end than the other, if you know what I mean.  Still, I said that last year.  You do rather root for Peterborough, much as Ferguson is so very hard to like… there’s something to be said for trying to score more goals than the other lot.  More teams should try it.  Sixteenth.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

INS: Michel Antonio (Reading, Undisclosed), Chris Maguire (Derby County, Undisclosed), Diogo Amado (Estoril, Free), Anthony Gardner (Crystal Palace, Free), Chris Kirkland (Wigan Athletic, Free), Kieran Lee (Oldham Athletic, Free), Joe Mattock (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Rhys McCabe (Rangers, Free), Nejc Pecnik (CD Nacional, Free)

OUTS: Ryan Lowe (Franchise FC, Undisclosed), Rob Jones (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Clinton Morrison (Colchester United, Free), Richard O’Donnell (Chesterfield, Free), Jon Otsemobor (Franchise FC, Free), Sean Cuff, Vadaine Oliver, Chris Sedgwick, Liam Palmer (Tranmere Rovers, Six Month Loan), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen, Season Loan)

OUR EX-OWLS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Paul Wilkinson (Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 4-1 romp at Vicarage Road three years ago with Tom Cleverley and Henri Lansbury in full flow, and a 2-1 defeat later in the season which saw Cleverley’s last goal for the ‘orns.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kirkland
Buxton    Llera         Gardner          Mattock
J.Johnson    Lines     Semedo       Antonio
Pecnik     Madine

VERDICT: Wednesday snuck back  into the automatic promotion places at the end of last season to deny their Steel City rivals, which obviously won’t have been enjoyed at all.  Hardly an unstoppable charge back to the second tier, then, but some serious investment by the Owls over the summer comes across as a statement which says “we’re not bloody going through that again”.  They won’t either, not imminently, despite what Dave Jones described as “the worst 45 minutes I’ve ever seen” in the opening half of their League Cup tie with Oldham on Tuesday night.  The wingers look particularly strong (assuming that Johnson stays interested) and there are options up front.  Defensively it looks a bit wobblier as it stands (albeit there’s talk of further investment before the end of the month) but Kirkland is obviously an asset if he stays fit – and in fairness, he’s had “good” seasons with injury in three of the last four.  Overall, more than enough to safely nestle them in mid-table although, despite probably being the best equipped of the promoted sides, it’s hard to see them sustaining a play-off challenge, even with a prevailing wind.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

INS: Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson (Lillestrøm, £2,430,000), Jamie Tank (Walsall, Undisclosed), Frank Nouble (West Ham United, Free), Tongo Doumbia (Rennes, Season Loan), Slawomir Peszko (1.F.C.Cologne, Season Loan)

OUTS: Adlene Guedioura (Nottingham Forest, Undisclosed), Michael Kightly (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Sam Vokes (Burnley, Undisclosed), Louis Harris (AFC Wimbledon, Free), Ashley Hemmings (Walsall, Free), Jamie Spray (AFC Telford, Free), Jake Cassidy (Tranmere Rovers, Six Month Loan), Jonny Gorman (Plymouth Argyle, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-WOLVES: Chris Iwelumo

THEIR EX-ORNS: Tony Daley (Fitness/Conditioning Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two defeats as Wolves were promoted in 2008/09, Chris Iwelumo giving us a battering in an eventful 3-2 defeat at Vicarage Road and Adrian Mariappa scoring his first senior goal at Molineux as Brendan Rodgers’ side dropped into the bottom three.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Hennessey
Foley      Johnson     Stearman        Ward
Peszko        Henry     Doumbia        Jarvis
Doyle      Sigurðarson

VERDICT: Last season was monstrous for Wolves, whichever way you cut it.  Easy to forget that when Mick McCarthy was sacked in February, they were only in the drop zone on goal difference.  I’m no fan of McCarthy, but the dismissal felt a little premature… he’d been the first manager since John Barnwell in 1981 to keep the Wolves in the top flight.  I guess I didn’t have to watch the team every week though, as someone pointed out at the time.  What was looking like a difficult season soon became farcical;  a stated intention to cherry pick an experienced manager failed to find any takers and the well-meaning but utterly out of his depth Terry Connor, a long-term coach at the club, was left with the indignity of leading a plunge back into the second tier.  He failed to win any of his thirteen games in charge.

It was a car crash, all the more peculiar because from the outside, it didn’t look as if Wolves had a squad that should be struggling.  They were particularly well catered for in attacking positions;  we’d seen at close hand, albeit in the Championship, what a devastating weapon Michael Kightly was;  Matt Jarvis capped by England, Doyle, Fletcher, Ebanks-Blake a perfectly respectable deputy.  The problems were at the other end, where the signing of Roger Johnson was only the most well-publicised disaster of a calamitous defence that conceded more goals than anyone else.

Enter Stale Solbakken, who had spent a year with Cologne – and was relegated with the Bundesliga’s definitive yo-yo club – following huge success at Copenhagen.  The thing hasn’t settled down yet… several top players, inevitably, wanted out; Fletcher and Jarvis seem certain to leave, although both remain at the time of writing, and Michael Kightly provoked fury by leaving for Stoke after three injury-dominated years during which he was given a new contract.  Something of the Lee Cook about that one.  Meanwhile Solbakken has taken the odd step of announcing his transfer targets before they’ve been secured, thus courting unnecessary pressure as several have turned him down.  Nonetheless, this is a capable guy and a remarkably sensible appointment.  Fletcher and Jarvis, not having anticipated the recent turn of events, have three or four years left on contract, so their sale would provide funds to bolster what already looks like a strong squad.  The defence could still need some attention, although Roger Johnson’s re-emergence should be encouraging for Wolves fans, and there’s a lack of creativity in midfield without Jarvis but you’d expect these areas to be addressed by the end of the month.  In Doyle, Ebanks-Blake, Sigurðarson(lots to be said for signing lunatic Icelandic centre-forwards from Lillestrøm of course), Nouble and (for the moment) Fletcher there are loads of attacking options.  Play-offs would be a disappointment.

And finally…

WATFORD

INS: Manuel Almunia (Arsenal, Free), Fitz Hall (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Almen Abdi (Udinese, Season Loan), Ikechi Anya (Granada, Season Loan), Alex Geijo (Udinese, Season Loan), Steve Leo Beleck (Udinese, Season Loan), Daniel Pudil (Granada, Season Loan), Matej Vydra (Udinese, Season Loan)

OUTS: Scott Loach (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Adrian Mariappa (Reading, Undisclosed), Rene Gilmartin (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Chez Isaac (Borehamwood, Free), Tom James (Nuneaton Town, Free), David Mirfin (Scunthorpe United, Free), Josh Walker (Scunthorpe United, Free), Michael Bryan

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Almunia
Hodson   Nosworthy    Taylor       Pudil
Eustace     Hogg     Abdi
Vydra            Geijo             Murray

VERDICT: Well where the hell do you start?

Whatever we expected at the start of the summer, a complete redefinition of our club wasn’t it.  The most recent manifestation of this has been the announcement that our application for Category 1 Academy status has been withdrawn in favour of Category 3 status.  The whys and hows and wherefores of this decision are still to be clarified at the time of writing;  my instinct is that this is the first of a number of hard-nosed decisions by our new owners (we’ll get to them), who promised to get the club running at a profit.  That was never going to be easy.  But something which downplays our traditional emphasis on youth development just feels so alien; given that the a big attraction, supposedly, of Watford (rather than anyone else) to the Pozzos was our youth development, one can only hope that this decision is well founded and that our youth development can survive despite it.  Beyond question is that the utterly selfish, grasping vanity of the Premier League’s EPPP, an initiative as shameless and morally repugnant as the creation of the Premier League itself, is ultimately the root cause of this decision;  the Pozzos’ judgement might be questioned, but they didn’t create the situation.

Contributing to said situation, presumably, is the financial chaos left behind by our erstwhile owner.  Defaulting on bond conditions to the extent that the club was sold from under him and appeared to run up a tax bill that provoked a transfer embargo was never going to be a matter of small misjudgement or loose change, and it’s not as if we were running at a profit anyway.  Much as there’s part of me that yearns for continued status as a well-run small-town club and all the limitations that that brings, another part recognises that that option really wasn’t on offer- and that “continued” would not be an accurate adjective in any case.  Whilst this club has been well-run at times over the past decade or so, such periods have never been sufficiently successful to render the periods in between insignificant.  The Pozzo takeover, given the alternative, is without question a positive development; we must hold them to their commitment to respect the club’s identity and community traditions.

As for stuff on the pitch… it’s very difficult not to hark back to the last time an Italian ex-Chelsea forward became manager and tried to impose a passing game.  Indeed, the League Cup game against Wycombe brought that period back into sharp focus, in case anyone had forgotten, in the ease with which Wanderers stifled us and found a way to play us.  Harsh to pass judgement on the first game of the season, but it’s going to need to get much sharper very quickly.

Encouragingly, as far as it’s been possible to judge, the players brought in look excellent;  certainly the three who played against Wycombe did well, Pudil, Geijo and Beleck address areas of weakness in the squad, and Fitz Hall brings an option in following the sale of Mariappa (even if a quicker option to complement Nos and Taylor might have been nice…).  It’s tempting to urge caution as regards expecting too much too early, but the first person to use the phrase “time to gel” in dispatches will, you can be assured, be punched very hard in the face.

It’s always harder to predict what will happen to Watford, much easier to make glib, half-arsed statements about any other club, but calling Watford’s fortunes this year is surely next to impossible even if one ignores emotional involvement.  Ultimately though, the core of what made us punch above our weight so comprehensively last season – the strong base at centre-back and centre-mid, despite the loss of the magnificent Mariappa, and the genius of Murray, is still there.  It is far from inconceivable that Almunia, being talked of as an England keeper a few years ago, could replace Kuszczak effectively.  As such I don’t expect us to struggle.  But quite how close we get to meeting the stated objective of top flight football this season is anybody’s guess.

Still.  You wouldn’t want life to be dull, would you.  You ‘orns.

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Comments»

1. Ian Lay - 16/08/2012

Thanks Matt, as always, for your hard work putting the season preview together. It’s always a great read.

Another very interesting championship season ahead. Who knows who is going to go up or down. This has to be one of the most open championship seasons for a long time.

2. Richard of the Rookery - 16/08/2012

Excellent stuff, Matt.

3. John Hamilton - 16/08/2012

An entertaining and informative set of previews, many thanks Matt.

4. Rob L - 16/08/2012

The only way I keep up with Watford and the Championship (outsdie of checking the table) from the States is this site. Fantastic commentary, thanks.

5. Adam - 16/08/2012

You ‘orns.

JohnM - 16/08/2012

Excellent. Many thanks. As you say, it’s anyones guess this coming season. Personally, don’t see a promotion this season. Maybe next. You ‘orns.

6. The Great Big O - 17/08/2012

Splendid stuff, as always, Matt. Thanks for the research and effort that went into this. I feel briefed for the new season.

Many of my mates are feeling distinctly unenthusiastic about this season – they feel a disconnect between their emotional relationship with the club and the Pozzos’ use of it to their own ends. I don’t share this (yet). After all, our previous owners – Bassini, the Russos, Ashcroft, etc – were also using the club to their own different ends, but I guess there were fewer outward signs that challenged how fans felt.

So I agree with you that we must hold the Pozzos to their commitment to respect the club’s identity and community traditions. Watford must be treated as Watford; it mustn’t become merely the location for the UK arm of the Pozzos’ project.

Matt Rowson - 17/08/2012

I don’t think that the Pozzos have done anything remotely worthy of the contempt in which Bassini and the Russos should be held. Not yet, anyway… there’s always an emotional disconnect when wholesale changes are made, it was the same at the start of Boothroyd’s promotion season I seem to remember.

As for Watford retaining its identity… I suspect that the Pozzos are bright enough to realise that Watford remaining Watford is in everyone’s interests.

7. IainJ - 17/08/2012

For some years now the Championship has been described as ‘very competitive’ or ‘the hardest division to get out of’, i’m not entirely sure of the quality we’ll see this season but your excellent preview illustrates just how evenly matched much of the division looks on paper. No wonder i do so badly with my own predictions.

8. NickB - 17/08/2012

Excellent, made me almost feel ready for the fray. How do you do that funny thing with the Icelandic surname exactly? Scandinavian keyboard?

Matt Rowson - 17/08/2012

it’s all in the fingers.

that and copying and pasting from wikipedia…


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