End of Term Report Part 8 24/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
The real crime in the Pozzo approach, of course, is that it’s nearly July and I’m still on the End of Term Report… final chapter…
40- Joel Ekstrand
Joel was another who wasn’t introduced from the word go, but from his full debut at home to Millwall in early November he was a fixture. Unfortunately for Joel his only brief spell out of the side, a knee injury causing him to miss two games in February, also postponed his recall to the Swedish national side. Unflashy but thoroughly competent, disciplined, effective, he was simply a component of the side that never caused any concern. Mentally, a “that bit’s sorted” label was pasted over whichever corner of the defence Joel occupied – even the period towards the end of the season when injuries to both Nosworthy and Hall saw him adopt the central role more obviously suited to a more physically dominant bully of a defender. He adapted and did the job required; whilst the defence occasionally creaked in the closing months it was the lack of height in general rather than Joel in particular that was the problem.
Where he did struggle, if only briefly and inconsequentially, was when he moved to the left of the three in the wake of Tommie Hoban’s injury… he seemed less confident in possession, less sure of his positioning. This was a brief wobble however; overall, Joel goes down as yet another successful import.
Next Season: A superbly confident, competent defender, once again you’d have him back like a shot. Once again we have to wait and see…
41- Fernando Forestieri
…but not with this one, not in this case. One of the most exciting days of the season, off the pitch, was January 14th when Fernando Forestieri’s move to Watford on a permanent basis and a five-and-a-half year contract was announced. In the back of your mind you knew that, whatever the kerfuffle about loans it didn’t really matter which club these guys were signed for. And you knew that the Pozzo model, as far as it affected Watford, made no sense if there was no continuity… a whole raft of loans in season 1 being replaced by a load of entirely different loans in season 2 presents the challenge of a new team settling and bedding before finding gear and perhaps falling just short as a consequence.
But what a statement that signing was. For all that Fernando was neither the most effective nor the most disciplined of our new signings in the first half of the season he was undoubtedly a star, someone with so much potential that it made your eyes water. Many of his early outings had been exciting and frustrating in equal measure… but his trajectory over the season suggests that that long contract might again have been a prudent move.
At the start of the season he quickly developed a reputation for going down rather easily… only partly merited, since his clever movement and tight control had seen him attract any number of fouls simply by getting his body between opponent and ball. By the end of the campaign his attitude was entirely different. Whilst he might still occasionally sit nonplussed on the ground as the game disappears back upfield in the wake of a rejected appeal for a foul, his statement towards the end of the season that Zola had taught him to regard the physical confrontation as a challenge was borne out in his play. When you think of him now it’s with an almost Maradonalike strength, low centre of gravity, difficult to knock off the ball. Quite a contrast to the start of the campaign.
And if there’s still room for improvement in terms of decision making, here too Fernando has been transformed… no longer a mercurial talent playing the game on his own as the hat-trick of assists that buried Blackburn testifies. Work in progress. But he is progressing, which is a terrifying prospect.
Next Season: Five years. Wow. Rock on August.
42- Jean-Alain Fanchone
I know that there were Watford supporters at Blackburn who will testify not only that Jean-Alain Fanchone existed, but that he played a full competitive 90 minutes for the side and didn’t do a bad job. Nonetheless, he suffers from coming in as one of a number of exotic but meaningless names on a par with Forestieri, Vydra, Cassetti, Ekstrand… and never progressing further into most of our consciousnesses. He enters into legend, a myth, his name joining the likes of Sergei Clescenco, Jerren Nixon and Sietes (Stern John’s membership reneged when he rocked up at Nottingham Forest) in a list of names who occupy that grey area between Colin Simpson and Roy of the Rovers.
Next Season: Jean-Alain joined Nimes after his loan at Vicarage Road was curtailed. Or so Wikipedia would have us believe.
At Huddersfield I was lucky enough to join Jon Marks in the BBC 3CR “commentary box”. The game was a pivotal point in our season of course, but was also more immediately dramatic and slightly bad tempered and ended in what is commonly referred to as “controversy” as Fernando was felled in the penalty box to earn the decisive spot kick.
With Jon off doing interviews post-match I was left watching first the stadium and then the press box gradually empty until I was left apparently alone inside the arena with the guy slowly replenishing the pitch markings. I wandered back into the bowels of the stadium and located the door which had earlier been marked out as the “Press Room” by virtue of a makeshift label in biro on a folded piece of A4 taped to the door. Said sheet of A4 had since been removed, but figuring that the coffee machine was probably still where I’d last seen it and betraying my inexperience of post-match ritual, I opened the door. The ranks of press men seated facing a -mercifully- still empty desk looked at me expectantly. I tried to look as if I both belonged in the room and knew exactly what I was doing by gratefully parking myself in the middle of the throng alongside Frank Smith.
Gianfranco arrived within 30 seconds and dealt with the array of questions, predominantly from local journalists and with a focus on the dramatic denouement to the goalscoring. He was disarmingly charming throughout, fielding every question cordially with his thoughtful, apologetic grin. As the door closed behind him the local guys turned to each other with a “what a nice man…”.
Which matters. It matters to me, anyway. Not that he can charm a bunch of football journalists particularly, but that he’s patently a very nice bloke who you want to do well. Not the only criteria of course… we all have friends that we like as people that we wouldn’t want in charge of our football club. But it helps. There have been relatively successful managers in the past who have been much harder to warm to.
Charming or not, and the Wembley disappointment notwithstanding Zola’s first season at Vicarage Road can only be regarded as a huge success. In considering the recruitment strategy we’ve employed it’s been largely overlooked that being handed a disparate group of largely unproven if talented players, quickly fusing them into the team and creating something capable of such magnificence was a huge achievement, not something to be glossed over or taken for granted. He’ll have learned from the process and it will be interesting to see if there are any obvious changes in his own approach next season… in particular his occasional wholesale squad rotation that was largely unsuccessful and was probably the most frequently voiced criticism.
On balance, however, Gianfranco earned us far more than he lost us, and many of the squad have progressed dramatically under the tutelage of him and his coaching team. We’ve made the point any number of times over the season and since the start of the summer. But we really have been so lucky…
End of Term Report Part 7 21/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
34- Jack Bonham
What is there to say, really? Some circumstances can be planned for, anticipated, rehearsed. Sometimes you can look at how a game pans out and think “well, so-and-so could have been on the bench” or “they weren’t well drilled enough at set pieces”. Sometimes bad luck just rears its knee right where it hurts and there’s nothing you can do about it. Injuries to two goalkeepers would have been noteworthy at any stage of the season let alone on the same day, let alone on that day. There was more to come of course, and the punch-drunk glumness at the final whistle owed as much to reflecting on the missed opportunity afforded by Cardiff’s equaliser as to the goalkeeping conundrum that had preceded it. I guess it could have been worse; Almunia could have started the match…
But ultimately it’s for that one, horrible game that Jack Bonham will be remembered. Impossible to blame him of course… he’d not expected to be on the bench and had just been told that he could look for a new club, hardly ideal preparation for a competitive debut in such a game. That he conceded two awkward goals, borne in no small part of his inexperience, an unfortunate epitaph for his Watford career.
Next Season: Jack has already signed for Brentford, where he’ll compete with another ex-Hornet Richard Lee.
36- Alex Geijo
It could so easily have all gone wrong. There were so many different eventualities, outcomes, of the Pozzo approach in year 1 that were far less favourable than the breathtaking, exhilarating football that we enjoyed resulting in a play-off final (albeit lost) at Wembley. The template for one of those alternative eventualities is Alex Geijo, a striker of undoubted ability who nonetheless never quite clicked How different would our season have been if that had been the norm? This was far from implausible.
In fairness to Alex, he didn’t get the easiest of hands. Troy Deeney’s imperious return to the fold as the de facto leader of the side, alongside the rapier Vydra with the mischievous Forestieri also pressing for a place left Geijo short of opportunities. Effectively he was competing for a starting place with Troy – only once, at Turf Moor, did they start together – and Troy was undroppable from the moment he returned to the side; Geijo never afforded the luxury of consecutive starts.
What we did see was often encouraging… a clever striker with tight control he was often effective foil for his striking partners but rarely looked like being prolific himself, despite the promise of his goalscoring exploits in the Spanish second tier, and even his best performances – at Hillsborough, Elland Road, at home to Charlton – didn’t make Zola’s subsequent selection decisions difficult enough.
Next Season: Given his limited opportunities it’s questionable whether he’d want to spend another season at Vicarage Road; a return to Spain is the popular prediction.
37- Geoffrey Mujangi Bia
Another who seemed to suffer from the switch to 3-5-2… perhaps a more plausible excuse in his case than in Sean Murray’s since Bia never looked like anything other than an out-and-out winger. Direct and aggressive with a penchant for running at people, he was a regular scorer in friendly games netting at least five goals in non-competitive ties over the course of the season. Nonetheless, he never looked like establishing himself in the first team and a season during which he started more League games for Standard Liege than for the Hornets despite joining us in late August has to go down as a disappointment.
Next Season: Much as an early groin injury and our change in formation worked against Geoffrey, it’s difficult to imagine that either party will be keen on the option to buy being taken up.
38- Cristian Battocchio
At the time of writing we have no confirmation as regards which of last year’s loan stars we will see again at Vicarage Road last season. A couple of weeks ago, however, having gotten over Wembley (-ish) to bathe in the season’s happy afterglow my brother asserted that “even if Battocchio were the only one to come back, it would be tremendously exciting….”.
Cristian was scarcely involved in the team for the first half of the season, only starting one game in 2012; gradually however he ousted Mark Yeates from contention to wrestle with Jonathan Hogg for the third place in the midfield trio. In truth he started a little slowly, despite announcing himself with the deft final touch to that sublime fourth goal against a beleaguered Huddersfield. He looked good when the team was playing well… energetic and purposeful but comfortable on the ball. When things weren’t going so well, though, he tended to fade into the background a little, not yet bold enough at 21 to change the course of a game.
But this changed, and Battocchio was one of several in whom the real theme of the season – the steady growth and improvement of the team throughout – was evident. His high point came at Hull at the beginning of April… yes, we know it didn’t matter in the end but it didn’t half matter at the time and Cristian was magnificent in that second half, hurtling after the ball when we weren’t in possession and driving us on when we were. By the end of the campaign he was a weapon, more than a mere option, and at only just 21 is one of several whose performances last term belied his years.
Next Season: My brother isn’t the only one who’d love to see Cristian back. Fingers crossed.
39- Nathaniel Chalobah
He’s still only eighteen. He’s still only eighteen. Good grief.
Chalobah was a relatively inconspicuous recruit during the crazy end to last summer, almost slipped past the bouncers whilst they were distracted checking the imports’ credentials. In the context of all this exotic newness, a youngster loaned out for experience by one of the big clubs was very much old potatoes. We’d seen this sort of thing plenty of times before, with varying levels of success.
But never quite like this. Even Tom Cleverley, who made a comparable impact during his loan here four years ago was two or three years older than Chalobah at the same stage, and playing a very different role. Magnificent as Cleverley was, it’s perhaps less surprising to find a youngster leading from the front, creating and scoring goals, pulling people about, nipping in free kicks. Chalobah at the age of 17, was immediately the conductor of the side, the metronome, setting the pace.
It would be wrong to suggest that Chalobah was always brilliant. Quite often he was quite far from brilliant, as if his satnav had been knocked out of kilter and every pass was wrong. Other times he looked plain cocky, as if he knew that he was above all of this. Yet another way in which we might have benefited from John Eustace’s presence in the side.
Thing is, he is really too good for this. Buying time, finding space, rolling away from hubbub with the ball to smuggle it off the high street and stroll down a quiet side alley at a leisurely pace. For a seventeen year old to be a lynchpin at the back of the midfield at any level is extraordinary, for us to be relying on a teenager as we pushed for promotion neither expected nor entirely desirable however good he is. And if you’re in any doubt, watch that Leicester goal again. He really is rather good.
Next Season: Already in the U21s at the age of 18, one loanee that we won’t be seeing in yellow again next season.
End of Term Report Part 6 18/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
28- Connor Smith
The interesting thing here of course was that whilst Sean Murray’s involvement was dwindling, another young Irish midfielder was staking an unlikely claim for first team action. Connor started twice, came off the bench half a dozen times and, as significantly, was frequently a non-playing substitute, perceived as a viable option, until a knee injury ended his season in November. The half hour or so that I saw of Connor in action – spread across three of those sub appearances – weren’t a great deal to pass judgement on, but he looks composed, tough and confident, and rather contradicts the popular assertion amongst the lazier appraisals of our new approach regarding the lack of scope for youngsters to come through.
Next Season: With Connor over his knee problem, he looks set to push for involvement again in the new season. Except that kids don’t get a look in at Watford any more apparently, even though we’ve only got 14 players signed for next season. Hold on, that doesn’t work does it? Anyway, it’s a bloody disgrace. “Boss, that Watford bit you asked for is ready…”
29- Adam Thompson
For all that Adam has been knocking around for a while now, it’s easy to forget that his senior debut nearly three years ago came as a 17 year-old. Nonetheless, slightly concerning that despite his impressive first team introduction two years ago under Malky Mackay he enjoyed limited competitive action this season, playing only twice during a month at Wycombe in August, and then succumbing to a shoulder injury after only eight minutes’ match time at Barnet in January. He also came off the bench three times for the Hornets, albeit as numbers and options dwindled.
Next Season: Still in the picture – more so than Dale Bennett, for example – but needs to make an impact in the final year of his contract.
30- Jonathan Bond
Ultimately Jonathan Bond’s season will probably be remembered more for a period of alarming inactivity, the ten minutes or so that he spent prone on the bloodstained turf following his injury against Leeds United, than for his active involvement. Which is a shame really because he played the limited hand that the role of backup keeper offers him rather well, most markedly during a six-and-a-half game run afforded him by the hamstring injury sustained by Manuel Almunia against Derby in February. A terrific shot-stopper, there was nonetheless a visible improvement in the composure of the defence once Almunia returned – harsh to criticise Bond for that, he’s sixteen years Almunia’s junior, but his decision making is sometimes a little hesitant.
Nonetheless, a great prospect who made as much progress as he can have hoped over the campaign. Worth noting also that after the collision with Ikechi Anya in the Leeds game (the push from Dominic Poleon which caused it echoing Belgian international Dries Mertens’ push that put Gary Cahill out of Euro 2012 a year earlier), Bond was bold enough to make himself available for selection at the KP Stadium just five days later. Doesn’t augur badly, that.
Next Season: One of the many interesting subplots of the summer contract farrago; Bond is out of contract, and whilst it’s inconceivable that we won’t be offering him a new one it will be interesting to see quite how well the rumoured top flight interest stacks up against Bond’s view of his place at Vicarage Road.
31- Tommie Hoban
It’s easy to forget that as the team was announced and digested before the pivotal game at Huddersfield, a selection which on the back of five games without a win yielded four team changes and a switch in formation, it was Tommie Hoban’s full debut that was perhaps the most surprising development. Surprising because this wasn’t how it was supposed to pan out; the new arrivals were being drip fed in, we’d still to see Ekstrand, Geijo, Fanchone for example and had had only glimpses of several others. And here was a young defender, not being teased with a place on the bench but actually being dumped straight into the mixer…
He never looked back, and the near-five year contract he’d been tied to a month earlier suddenly looked like an extremely useful move. Sharp reactions, quick over the ground, great anticipation, Hoban looked more like a veteran than a teenager. And certainly a top flight defender in waiting.
There were, it must be conceded, suggestions of tiredness shortly before his season was effectively ended on New Years’ Day (after one game back six weeks later a recurrence would end his campaign). He can easily be forgiven that though, as evidence by his Young Player of the Season award. A gem.
Next Season: The only question mark is quite how big a problem this ankle injury turns out to be; if there’s been any feedback since his May operation in the US, I’ve missed it. That aside, a nailed-on starting position beckons.
33- Nyron Nosworthy
As our squad began to swell last August, the one certainty was that we’d be better equipped than anyone in the division to cope with a swathe of injuries. As it turned out, we needed all that cover in defensive positions having suffered an injury glut that in any other season would have been disastrous. Fitz Hall, Neuton, Tommie Hoban, and Nos all spent long periods on the sidelines; we used every inch of defensive cover and it says a lot that the injury list is mentioned as mere detail rather than something that dominated and capsized our season.
Nos took the chances that he had with both hands, and looked every bit the part in the no-nonsense bruiser role at the back that was otherwise often filled by Fitz (the pair made 37 league starts between them, but only lined up together once – at Ashton Gate. You can have too much of a good thing, it seems). He settled perfectly comfortably into the three-man back line having missed three months with a hamstring injury picked up whilst with Jamaica before rupturing his achilles, again whilst on international duty, ruling him out from mid-March onwards. It says a lot that despite being one of the “old guard”, losing Nos felt like a hammer blow at the time – and amongst the many what-ifs following Leeds (and Wembley), one wonders whether we’d have benefited from either Fitz or Nos being available for the last ten games or so.
Next Season: Nos limped around the pitch post-Leicester on crutches whilst still training his camera-phone at the Rookery. Probably quite a jumpy recording, that. Prognoses at the time of his injury were that he’d be out for four months, i.e. back over the summer… let’s hope so, it’s inconceivable that he won’t otherwise have a role to play in the last year of his contract.
End of Term Report Part 5 15/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
20- Matěj Vydra
…has an awful lot to answer for. More specifically, that ludicrous comic-book goal in the televised win at the Amex has a lot to answer for. As he flew past Brighton’s astonished defence, you could all but see the speech bubbles emerging from the crowd “Wow, look at that kid go!”. “Yes, he’s making Adam look like a cart horse”. Except that by the time the supporters in question got that lot out, in real time rather than freeze frame, the ball was in the back of the net and Vydra was reeling off in celebration. A goalscorer, plain and simple, whose movement, pace and faultless finishing made him absolutely unplayable on a good day.
And “a lot to answer for” is at least partly tongue in cheek. That goal, sandwiched in the centre of a particularly prolific month-and-a-bit which saw him grab five braces, ten goals, caught everyone else’s eye as well. Even Ian Holloway’s, who as a manager of (at different times) two of our rivals naturally had had no cause to notice our recruitment strategy until mere hours before being captured for a handy soundbite pre-match in February. After which,after the glut of tedious guff concerning our “use of the loan market” he was slightly less effective, whether as a consequence of extra attention or fatigue, form, luck, distraction or a combination of some or all of these.
In that movement and the icy precision in front of goal, Vydra echoed Kevin Phillips; the bit of extra pace made him a terrifying weapon. Until February, when the goals stopped… and even then their were echoes of Superkev’s periods of uncertainty and introspection in the period that followed. He exploded into form again in the play-offs… there were hints of it at the KP Stadium, an absolute masterclass at Vicarage Road… and then disaster at Wembley, when his injury limited our effectiveness. Looking back now, that’s as much of a choker as anything… Palace outplayed us, some of our players didn’t show up, others were injured. And yet they still only won it in Extra Time, via a penalty. It wouldn’t have taken a lot, would it…
Next Season: The Pozzo mantra has been that the top players get sold only to the top clubs and only for the right money. Vydra (and, evidently, his agent) are the likeliest to test that resolve over the summer.
21- Ikechi Anya
Early doors, I must confess, I wasn’t convinced. Careful and deliberate as I am in passing judgement on new players, I think it must have been Ikechi’s debut twenty-minutes or so as a cameo in the grotesque home defeat to Ipswich that had me writing him off… a whirligig winger, 99% enthusiasm, 1% control, 0% end product. We’d seen plenty of his sort before.
Except… it wasn’t like that at all. Anya’s trajectory over the course of the season proved to be as impressive as anyone’s… that his pace was a potent weapon was clear as early as the trips to Leeds and Blackpool in November, from which point he was worth a place on the bench at least. Pretty soon he was holding down a starting place thanks to a defensive discipline that matured very quickly, an unlikely strength in the air and extraordinary stamina that culminated with that goal against Leicester when despite having played wing back three times in a week, he sprinted a third of the length of the pitch in the 97th minute in the build up to Deeney’s goal.
There’s still a question mark over the reliability of the final ball, if we’re honest, the tendency to dawdle in attacking positions not doing his forwards any favours. But he’s a versatile, utterly likeable asset.
Next Season: You’d have him back like a shot. Fingers crossed.
22- Almen Abdi
The thing about creative midfielders is that they’re not supposed to be reliable. Flighty, mercurial, yes. Perhaps the likes of John Eustace, capable of making things happen, are reliable but they’re not primarily creative in their function, that’s not the point. So someone like Almen Abdi, who can be relied upon to put a shift in and be a source of goals, assists, mischief is a rare jewel indeed.
It would be wrong to suggest that Abdi never had a bad game; they came along now and again, and he was also guilty of disappearing during games on occasions. But these occasions were vastly outweighed by the times that he pinged one of his viciously reliable free kicks towards the top corner, or sent through yet another slide-rule through ball that seemed as effortless as if someone was controlling him with a Pro-Evolution Soccer Playstation remote with a finger permanently hovering over the “through-ball” green triangle.
An absolute triumph then, one of the jewels of the season; few could begrudge him the Player of the Season award in a year when many made a case for the accolade.
Next Season: Must surely be a priority in terms of retaining some of these loan stars.
25- Joe Garner
Inevitably in a series like this at this point after this season you find yourself looking back at some of those whose Watford careers appeared to have been over as soon as the takeover happened; the comments sections of the previous installments reflect as much, however much we’ve enjoyed and appreciated the sense in what has happened since. So… Martin Taylor, might have struggled a bit since he left but a good egg, would have been happy if he’d stuck around. Prince Buaben, probably had something that we never quite got out of him. Stephen McGinn… bad injury, crying shame, but still, there might still be a player there. Dicko… whatever his limitations, commitment and guts weren’t problems. You’ve got to root for a guy like that.
Joe Garner. Ah.
The thing is, when you’re scrabbling around for options, a striker’s failings are the most obvious. A midfielder who’s not quite up to scratch can disguise this – and still contribute something – by running around a lot, bluntly. A defender’s failings in positioning, say, or communication are perhaps less obvious from the stands. But when your budget is limited and you’re looking for squad players, perhaps, for options, you’re going to get a few turkeys. And a striker who’s struggling has nowhere to hide. Joe Garner never looked better than “about to make an impact” or ” perhaps he’s got something”. He never delivered on the odd suggestion of a level of awareness that might help oil our forward line, and certainly never delivered the glut of goals that my Dad for one, for reasons infathomable, insisted was just around the corner…
Next Season: After a briefly prolific loan at Carlisle, Joe was released and joined Preston in January. He has yet to score for his new side, but appears to remain part of Simon Grayson’s plans for the coming season.
27- Marco Cassetti
I know that the “Cool as Cassetti” thing is hardly an insight, hardly something that you needed pointing out. Nonetheless it’s impossible to avoid. Marco is all but a caricature. His languid, effortless brilliance simply oozes “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt”-ness and the level of anticipation which has enabled a veteran Italian international to adapt to the English second tier has been an absolute joy. You can still picture it in your mind’s eye… read the play, amble in, take the ball without making a challenge, stride into space, stop for a cigarette, shuffle on, dink a perfect through ball, admire handiwork like a painter stepping back from his masterpiece, nod approvingly. All without breaking sweat. Pure class.
In truth, Marco’s passage was far from effortless; having scarcely played for Roma the previous season he visibly took time to acclimatise. Initially he was fielded as a wing back, and whilst we benefited hugely from the quality of his delivery – he provided eight assists in the five months following his introduction in mid-September – his vulnerability to a tricky winger was evident long before extra time at Wembley.
Nonetheless, a huge asset over the course of the season, and no small coup for us to have recruited a player of this calibre whatever the circumstances. And enormous fun to watch, which is the whole point of the exercise after all.
Next Season: One imagines that Marco would see rather more action in central positions, particularly if we retain the three at the back… Lloyd, Marco and a bruiser does rather cover all the bases. But as with so many, we wait and see what the summer negotiations bring.
End of Term Report Part 4 12/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
15- Stephen McGinn
You forget quite how many of our old squad drifted off, don’t you? Stephen McGinn’s situation a bit different of course; he’d not played for us since February 2011 when an injury picked up from an inoccuous challenge at Doncaster derailed a Watford career that was just beginning to look exciting. A damn shame, but it happens and the consequence is nothing to do with what’s happened to our club since, not really. McGinn might have had a stab at resurrecting his career here in the old world, but not necessarily.
That said, reports back from his loan at Shrewsbury were largely positive with one comment suggesting that he was too good for the Shrews to sign permanently; if he can recapture the movement, the deftness, the cleverness of his last few months in the first team then he could certainly do a job for someone at Championship level. One hopes he does, but more than any other of the players sidelined by the takeover, our assessment of McGinn remains on hold as of a long time ago.
Next Season: Reports have suggested that he’s been offered a deal at Yeovil. Best of luck to him.
16- Sean Murray
Another one that nobody saw coming, though perhaps we could have done. Sustaining the extraordinary trajectory of the first half of 2012 would have been a big ask, this was always going to be Sean’s “difficult second season”… but I don’t think anybody expected him to slip below the radar quite so dramatically.
Unsurprisingly, Sean was heavily involved at the beginning of the campaign – indeed, six of his eight starts came before the end of September including the home game with Bristol City which saw Murray, Vydra and Forestieri form a diminutive front three. You wouldn’t go quite as far as to say he was disappointing, but the murmurs in the stands were that he’d filled out a little over the summer. Then, at the end of that month, the change in formation to 3-5-2 that Zola has implied left the likes of Murray in a slightly difficult position, the wide midfielder role no longer available. He’s started twice since, and both with disappointing consequences – the 4-3 defeat at home to Charlton and the mugging at Ashton Gate where he was tried at wing back… both games in which saw wholesale changes though, so perhaps harsh to judge him on.
Thing is, I don’t remember a game this season where Murray has particularly caught the eye, demanded further inclusion. It’s tempting to superimpose an underlying problem onto these circumstances, so it’s worth noting that Zola has kept him involved throughout the season, he’s been involved in match day squads throughout. Not much action, though, only eight minutes off the bench in the final few months of the season, even when injuries to Chalobah and Abdi left us crying out for creativity in the middle. Not a problem child then, perhaps, but not living up to his early billing either just at the moment.
From a distance, some have taken Murray’s lack of involvement as evidence of our waning youth policy under the new regime, which is demonstrably unfair – Tommie Hoban, Connor Smith and Jonathan Bond have all flourished as far as injuries have permitted and Murray was one of several to be put on a long contract. But I think it’s fair to suggest that we all expected a little more.
Next Season: Sean Murray is a fabulously talented young footballer. But he’s still a young footballer. The club have committed to him, and will be looking to find him a role in the side. He needs to grasp that opportunity.
17- Matthew Briggs
What’s rather impressive with this one is the surgical precision with which a need was identified and addressed. A quite separate point to how well one perceives that Briggs actually did, we’ll get to that, a different question. But at a time when a cruel spate of injuries saw us suddenly limited for back three options and Daniel Pudil perhaps needed a bit of pressure to be applied at left wing back, we brought in a player who served both purposes.
Briggs wasn’t the first choice, with Robbie Brady and Jeremy Helan both well-reported targets who would have filled at least one of the two gaps and it’s fair to say that he didn’t convince everyone. Occasionally he seemed to lose concentration, to go to sleep at unhelpful times which is something you just can’t afford from your defenders when you’re playing as open a game as we have been. This was seized on early, and lead to Briggs celebrating his late, tidy goal against Blackburn with an ill-advised hushing gesture to his critics in the stands. Nonetheless, Briggs hasn’t been talked of as a prospect at Craven Cottage for nothing; he’s a fine athlete, and relished the attacking opportunities that the wing back role afforded him. As a loan, then, he did fine, did the job…. even if, were he our player, there’d be things you’d rather like him to work on.
Next Season: Briggs returned to Fulham, where he has a year left on his contract. He’ll clearly have a career in the game; based on our evidence, he’s got some trees to pull up if his time as a top flight prospect is to be extended.
18- Daniel Pudil
For many of us, the first we saw of Daniel Pudil was Lloyd’s testimonial, where he was skinned by Aaron Lennon and then limped of with a hamstring pull within six minutes. Since that unfairly inauspicious start he’s been involved in almost every matchday squad, virtually unchallenged at left wing-back until Matthew Briggs’ arrival, after which he dovetailed in and out of the side.
A likeable bloke who has clearly didn’t view his arrival in Hertfordshire as a temporary stop-off to be tolerated and “gotten through”, the sight of Daniel with his young son decked out in Watford kit in his arms became a regular fixture post-match at Vicarage Road whilst he has also been widely credited with helping his younger compatriot Matěj Vydra settle in England. On the pitch, his energetic displays at left wing-back were always wholehearted. Dependable and unflashy on the overlap, he did a good job of clocking up the miles up and down the left flank. If there are criticisms, he never quite got over the tendency to make the most of a challenge (something that arguably won us two points at home to Peterborough) and had a tendency to get caught the wrong side of his charge and insist on making unwinnable challenges to rectify his failing which cost us a few free kicks. Overall though, whilst not the highest profile of the loans he did a diligent and largely effective job in a position (ish) that’s traditionally hard to fill.
Next Season: Daniel’s effusive Twitter feed made it clear that he’d like to be back at Vicarage Road next season. Splendid.
19- Prince Buaben
The player whose colourful name spawned a multitude of inadequate nicknames, and another one who’s off without ever really having gotten going. Buaben’s season involved at Vicarage Road didn’t start until the October when Sean Dyche broke up the Eustace/Hogg midfield pairing and got Prince involved. From then on he was generally a positive but understated influence on the side… tidy enough as an option, but without ever really grabbing a game by the balls and imposing himself upon it.
He’s struggled with injury this season as well, a serious thigh injury ruling him out of the start of the campaign. We pondered briefly (on what must have been a very slow day) whether the frequency of our updates on his injury progress reflected more than merely diligence on the part of those feeding this information to the Observer. Perhaps this was one of the old guard who would find favour under the new regime, someone who was at the front of the management’s mind?
In the end he featured only once, a brief if competent ten-minute cameo at the tail end of that tremendous win at Hull. Even then, having observed the ease with which he retained possession as we played the game out, we thought that perhaps he had a role to play. We were wrong.
Next Season: Released at the end of his contract, Prince’s agent seems to be trying to talk up a move back to Scotland.
End of Term Report Part 3 09/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
I’ve got hay fever. I’ve never had hay fever before. It’s a bastard.
10- Chris Iwelumo
Another one who seemed to leave a long time ago in spirit and essence, Chris spent most of the season on loan in League One with first Notts County and then Oldham. In fact he was involved in first team action as late as October (just about), scored the first of the many Watford goals of this freewheeling season, and in the period between Taylor leaving / Eustace being injured and the new-look defence establishing itself his value as a leader and an organiser, coming back to call the shots at set pieces, was not insignificant.
Overall however his time at Watford has to go down as a disappointment. He was never signed as a goalscorer, not really, but his return in that department was miserly… and as a facilitator, a maker of space, a holder-up and an occupier of opponents he didn’t have the impact we’d expected. It’s easy to forget that two years ago, on his arrival, he felt like a bit of a coup… a player with significant experience at the top end of this division who’d caused us no end of problems over the years. In the end, with his first season slowed down by early injury, he only approached that level of fearsomeness briefly and late on… and even his tour de force at Elland Road was eclipsed by what would happen there in the same fixture a few months later.
You always wanted Chris to do well. He always came across as a very decent chap, a good guy to have around. Unfortunately we may have gotten hold of him a year or two too late.
Next Season: For all that Chris spent the entire season on loan from November onwards, he was involved in as many League games for us as for either of his loan sides for whom he made nine starts in total. Little surprise that he’s dropped through to League Two, where he’ll play under his former Burnley boss Brian Laws at Scunthorpe. Good luck to him.
11- Craig Forsyth
Such an odd one, this. A player signed “for the future”, Craig was the very essence of a development player based on his outings under Sean Dyche. There was plenty to like there… his height was useful, if an annoyingly lazy target for a long ball, decent with the ball at his feet, a glorious strike with his left boot. And there were plenty of rough edges too, some wobbly-legged awkwardness, occasions when games just passed him by or tossed him around like a carrier bag in a gale. The frustration then is that we probably don’t get to see – at first hand – how the story ends. At this point in time, based on the evidence we’ve seen, it could go either way (though 24, Craig has only been playing at this standard for a couple of years now)… but he will probably neither get to be a success nor confirm his inadequacy at Watford. It’s like watching the first episode of a two-parter and then forgetting to record the finale.
Craig’s two league games under the new regime came between his loans at Bradford and Derby in January; apparently well-suited to the wing-back role he looked tougher and focused. Competent, certainly, and no worse than a decent back-up option in that position (albeit that neither at home to Huddersfield nor at Ipswich was he put under any great pressure). Instead he disappeared on loan to Derby County, and that was that.
Next Season: A permanent move to Pride Park seems nailed on; we’ll watch Craig’s progress from a curious distance.
12- Lloyd Doyley
It’s not a surprise any more. Not to anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention for the last twelve years or so. Like a tired, recycled soap opera thread, we had a new landlord moving into the Vic and… oh no, what’s to become of the pub’s likeable potman? Surely he won’t be swept away by this swish new broom, surely not, but his face can’t fit can it….. ahhh, but look he’s won the new guy over. They strung that storyline out a bit though didn’t they?
The greatest testament to Lloyd’s Watford career is that he has finally, indisputably, achieved cult status. Nobody, not even a grumbling minority, seriously questions Lloyd’s value any more, nobody bothers arguing that his limitations somehow outweigh his benefits. Admittedly, the change in formation suited him down to the ground giving full air to his defensive discipline and speed on the cover, and always offering a simple pass to limit the impact of his traditional “area for improvement”. If he was occasionally isolated and exposed in the air – as against David Nugent versus Leicester, there was invariably an unperturbed masterclass like the play-off final around the corner.
Next Season: Out of contract. Whatever. More of the same.
13- Steve Leo Beleck
The real question here is, how many kids find themselves signed to five clubs in three different countries before they’re out of their teens? And then… how many go from playing in the Greek top flight to a loan at Stevenage within eight months or so?
Steve Beleck’s Watford career to date consists of thirty seven minutes’ of League action (spread across five games, so plus injury time) plus the League Cup defeat to Bradford. He wasn’t completely awful, he showed the odd flash of something in the very limited opportunity that he was given, but never looked like challenging for a first team spot when the extent of our attacking riches became clear. Based on what we’ve seen, it’s questionable whether Beleck would be ahead of the likes of Assombalonga or the much whispered about Mensah in the pecking order. He’s barely six months older than Sean Murray himself, but failed to pull up any trees at Stevenage – indeed, he hasn’t scored a competitive goal for anyone since 2011, and there’s several more curio stats in there somewhere. Big strikers often take a while to look the part, you wouldn’t want to judge him yet… but the “being loaned out whilst on loan” thing sort of sums the situation up. Odd.
Next Season: With that career trajectory, your guess is as good as mine.
14- Ross Jenkins
Yup, still about.Yup, only 22.
Brendan Rodgers’ spell seems eons ago, and yet Ross Jenkins played and impressed through much of it. Since then… he’s never quite got going, always looked decent but not quite enough. Tough, disciplined, aggressive and tidy Ross looked a good player, let alone a prospect, five years ago; that he’s still a prospect, still not established is down to his brittleness as much as his increasingly limited opportunities. His loan at Plymouth had the locals cooing, but was brought to an end early by a groin injury…. later in the season he was impressing again at Barnet, scoring an overhead kick on his third and final start for the bees. He played alongside Edgar Davids in the midfield in that Accrington game incidentally, a midfield that you really wouldn’t mess with. And after his month he was back on the sidelines at Vicarage Road.
His only action for us this year was in the League Cup tie with Bradford. Whilst you’d like to think that his level is higher than League Two he really needs to shake these injuries and get some games in somewhere if he’s going to sustain the career that seemed to be laid out for him.
Next Season: Still a year on his contract, but it would be a bit of a turnaround if he featured much. For me, based on ability alone, you wouldn’t completely rule it out. The injury record is the big question mark.
End of Term Report Part 2 06/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Part 2’s candidates slightly more involved than those discused in Part 1…
5 (#2)- Neuton
…Neuton being the unfortunate exception. The young defender managed seven starts, half a dozen of them in a burst in September since when a series of injuries, most recently a dislocated shoulder, have limited his involvement. What we did see of him hardly lived up to our expectations, it’s fair to say. One of the more vaunted of the new arrivals he looked comfortable in possession and his distribution was good as you’d expect, but he adopted a defensive approach of which, as a description, “cavalier” isn’t quite colourful enough. We had signed a defender from an Italian side and expected someone mean, tough, perhaps cynical. Instead we got a Brazilian Keith Dublin.
It’s harsh to be too critical, in fairness. 22 on his arrival, both of his brief spells in the side coincided with more difficult periods for the team and he showed evidence of toughening up and adjusting to his new environment as time went on. Others, particularly Fernando Forestieri and Cristian Battocchio, did so more successfully but fate gave them greater opportunity to do so.
Next Season: Time will tell whether we see Neuton again after the summer. Whether we do or not, his brief and haphazard Watford career so far is not a reasonable basis for judgement.
6- Fitz Hall
The legendary “One Size”. Previously the notorious “One Size”, sent off twice at Vicarage Road earlier in his career (with Wigan and QPR) and a prominent figure in our volcanic play-off with Crystal Palace in 2006. He wasn’t exactly what we’d expected of the brave new world but my god he did a job when he was in the side. His first start was a goalscoring one as part of a rejigged, rethought set-up at Huddersfield and he rarely put a foot wrong thereafter; a beast of a defender whose physical presence gave us a bullying option when gentler approaches were failing he became a key player and an easy selection when fit.
And that was the problem, and probably the key reason for him dropping back to the second tier in the first place. In all he had four separate spells out of the side, five if you include his delayed start to the season. His hamstrings clearly made of spaghetti… a crying shame, since but for that he’d be an absolute nailed-on starter in every game. But then if John Barnes was 17 again we’d be trying to sign him, too.
Next Season: We’ve done well enough out of One Size, and if there were any prospect of him overcoming his injury limitations for any length of time he’d be worth an extra year. Based on recent evidence (this was the first time he’d managed 20 league starts for five years) there isn’t, so he isn’t.
7- Mark Yeates
Hands up who predicted that. Well done you, liars one and all. For all that Mark Yeates had laid on more goals than anyone else during Sean Dyche’s season, he was very much on the way out at the end of it having been all but ostracised in the second half of that campaign. As it turned out the switch in formation to 3-5-2 this term suited him down to the ground; his rather nomadic career thus far reflects the quandary of how and whether to employ a player who creates chances without ever looking like an entirely reliable source of chances, and whose lack of pace meant that as a winger he was never going to frighten or preoccupy opposing defences.
But as the fetcher and carrier in the central three in midfield, the conduit between Nathaniel Chalobah’s elegant conducting and Almen Abdi’s merciless threading, he suddenly looked an asset. His lack of pace less of a problem, his willingness to make a run often a plus off the bench when others had lost that impetus. It’s true that he featured less in the second half of the season as Cristian Battocchio was introduced as an option in the new year – and he still had the odd stinker, and he still sent the odd free kick over the bar – but he finished the season with a far greater haul of starts, goals, assists and goodwill than can possibly have been anticipated.
Next Season: Despite which, out of contract, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Mark Yeates back in yellow next season. His departure, if so it transpires, is on altogether different terms to what it might have been twelve months ago.
8- Jonathan Hogg
He’s in the penalty area. He’s in the flippin’ penalty area. As the ball drops to Anya he’s still inside our box. And somehow, what, ten, fifteen seconds later he’s at the far post on the end of Fernando’s cross, with the presence of mind to cushion the ball back. My word.
Not the most celebrated name in our midfield, let alone the team. Not in the running for player of the year, not in everyone’s starting eleven. And he still hasn’t scored a bloody goal, of course, despite running out of ways to miss half-decent chances. And yet what an asset to the side Jonathan Hogg continues to be. Boundless energy (he’s in the penalty area…), a cool head, miserly with possession. In the same way that there will always be a place for Lloyd Doyley in any Watford squad, it’s hard to envisage a time when Jonathan Hogg isn’t a useful bloke to have around. He still has rough edges, has the odd game where things don’t work out. But it won’t be for the want of trying. That’s a good thing.
Next Season: More of the same. Might not always be in the side. Will always be in the squad.
9- Troy Deeney
Fundamentally, giving Troy another chance shouldn’t have been about whether we fancied him as a player or not, not really. It’s a moral issue, and assuming his contrition, given that he was in contract, it always felt the right decision to me. His ability probably did come into it though, and this being the case it’s hard not to be impressed with the judgement exercised by our new owners. Since his reintroduction Troy has emerged from a player with potential to an absolutely terrifying top class centre forward. Twelve months ago, before his trial, people were still bitching about his transfer fee from Walsall. Not sure anyone’s complaining now.
Troy quickly became the least dispensible member of the starting eleven. We had a lot of good players – Vydra on form was unplayable, and we struggled badly when both Abdi and Chalobah were missing from the midfield. But the one player that you felt we couldn’t function without was Troy, whose impressive goal tally was allied with the vital role of giving our attack something to play off. It’s a role he turned himself to with aplomb, and if the early comparisons with former Walsall teammate Tommy Mooney didn’t quite come to fruition – he’s a different type of weapon, as it turns out – Troy has become every inch the heartbeat of the side. And, whisper it, a leader.
If there’s a disappointment it’s that his weakest performances – losing his rag against Blackburn and Leeds, disappearing at Wembley – came when the pressure was on. But these are specks of ink on an otherwise massively impressive copybook. Given his low baseline, Troy was player of the season for me.
Next Season: Under contract until 2016, Troy will be leading the charge and the first name on the teamsheet.
End of Term Report Part 1 03/06/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Thanks to play offs’n’that I’m starting this almost a month later this season that last. With an early start to the next campaign galloping up at the beginning of August, I need to get a jiggy on. Last season’s effort, complete with predictions about to be rendered obsolete by the at that time unseen takeover and its consequences, starts in May 2012 if you’re so inclined.
1- Manuel Almunia
A signing that was almost lost, buried under the influx from Udine and Granada, an afterthought, a detail… which is remarkable in itself. Recruiting a goalkeeper of Almunia’s stature – three years as Arsenal’s first choice, Champions League Finalist – was worthy of more comment, whatever the new reality that was emerging at the time. The footnote of course was that Almunia hadn’t seen much action for a couple of seasons and this rustiness was evident in early games, just as Tamasz Kuszczak’s similar lack of practice had been betrayed early in his loan the previous season. Nonetheless, from as early as Lloyd’s testimonial in August when Manuel’s bellows from the Rookery end were clearly audible from the back of the Rous Stand it was clear that the goalkeeping position was no longer an issue. Nor was it; our defensive vulnerability owed nothing to Almunia and everything to our open, ambitious style of play. His high point was the play-off matches,culminating in the memorable double penalty save against Leicester and a defiant performance at Wembley – others might have wilted in the big-match glare, Manuel definitively didn’t.
If there’s a question mark it’s over his role as a captain, albeit that in a season of flux with John Eustace largely absent he’d been an obvious choice for the role. Troy Deeney emerged as a leader later, but couldn’t have been given the armband from the off… and occasionally you felt that we’d have benefited from someone being in the referee’s ear a bit more, a hard trick to pull for a goalkeeping captain. Ultimately his captaincy will probably be remembered for Troy and Fitz’s memorable testimony, which is perhaps a little unfair. But very funny.
Next Season: At the end of his one year deal, he’s done nothing to suggest that he’s not worth an extra year. Jonathan Bond is knocking hard, though.
2- Lee Hodson
Not a great year for young Lee. Despite being ostensibly reasonably well suited to the wing-back role in the formation favoured from the end of September onwards, Lee didn’t get a sniff of first team action between then and his departure on loan to Brentford in November. Even at Griffin Park his involvement was disappointing – limited, apparently, by the Bees having one more loanee on the books than they were permitted to include in a matchday squad. Frequently the odd man out, Hodson was involved in 13 league fixtures, only one a defeat, but only started 7 of them. Given that he clearly wasn’t pressing for the first team at Vicarage Raod, getting him out on loan was sensible… shame he didn’t get more games, though.
Next Season: One of several players of whom the perspective of most of the Watford support has effectively frozen in time… based on what we saw twelve months ago you’d say that Hodson has a future at Watford, and if not then at no further down than League One. A year’s a long time for a young player, though…
3- Carl Dickinson
If we’re honest, there wouldn’t have been a lot of money on Dicko lasting the season as first choice before the Pozzo takeover. Given our transformed means and outlook the only surprise is perhaps that he managed as much as two minutes plus injury time as late as Hillsborough at the end of November. That inconspicuous cameo was sandwiched between loans at Pompey (six starts, four bookings) and Coventry (six starts, just the one booking). Whatever your archetypal Zola player looks like, Carl isn’t it; whether what he can offer ever outweighed his limitations is questionable in any case.
Next Season: With Daniel Pudil and Matthew Briggs at the end of their loans (whatever the future holds…) and Craig Forsyth apparently on his way to Derby County, Dicko is the only left footer in the senior squad. Nonetheless, it would be surprising if we saw him in a yellow shirt again, year on his contract or otherwise.
4- John Eustace
The stats would suggest that John was just another member of the old guard whose face no longer fitted. Four starts (only one of which, the league cup win over Wycombe, completed), three times off the bench. The dying embers of a Watford career. Except… well, whether or not John would have been heavily employed had he not spent most of the season injured is open to question, but what’s beyond dispute is that more than anything else this team missed John Eustace’s savvy, his leadership, his bloody-mindedness on occasions. Perhaps he wouldn’t have held down a regular spot in this midfield. I’m not sure, though. Eustace has turned his hand to most things since his arrival, from midfield destroyer to fetcher and carrier to end-to-end, get on the end of stuff in the box-er, I wouldn’t want to assume that he wouldn’t have been more involved, and if I believed it I certainly wouldn’t say so to his face. The wonderful Fitz and Troy clip linked above speaks volumes… the giggling and bantering stops suddenly when Eustace’s name is mentioned. Both sit up straight, straighten their ties, tuck in their shirts and are suddenly nervous and polite about their skipper. Hell, his cold eyes scare the life out of me and I’ve only ever seen him from the stands.
Next Season: At the end of his contract, I’d be delighted if he’s still around next season but I fear that may be a forlorn hope. Whether he stays or goes, though, there’s no doubt that we’ve gotten far more out of John Eustace than his injury record suggested we might do five and a half years ago; as panic buys go, he didn’t do half badly (lest we forget, he arrived at the same time as Leigh Bromby and Matt Sadler). He’s been arguably our most important player over the intervening period despite spending two long spells out of the side and if he does overcome these latest injuries it’s worth remembering that at 33, he’s played barely 300 games. There’s an awful lot of football left in him.
5 (#1) – Martin Taylor
A detail, a footnote, but for completeness we should record that Martin Taylor was one of ours until the 31st August, when he left through one door as a raft of others arrived through another. At the time, his departure appeared disastrous… as low a point perhaps as the season was to have in terms of doubting new Watford, doubting Zola, doubting the decisions that were being made. Taylor had been a monstrous part of the side for two seasons, a key man, a wise old head and utterly dependable. A 5-1 collapse at Pride Park the day after he left only fanned the flames as the Rams made for the great big hole where Tiny used to be, a hole we’d taped up with polythene and hoped for the best. It was grim stuff.
Since then… Watford’s turnaround was confirmed with our next win at Huddersfield four weeks later, a pivotal point in the season. Tiny, meanwhile, has thoroughly failed to establish himself in Sheffield and having been vaunted as the solution to a problem by Dave Jones he became something of a scapegoat when the problem remained evidently unsolved. As we met at Hillsborough in November Taylor’s half-time introduction was followed by three second half goals in our favour; he’s barely started a game since, and his last on-pitch involvement in a winning side was when we beat Birmingham in September. Perhaps letting him leave wasn’t a disaster after all… although his change in fortunes remains baffling. After all, it was hardly a settled, confident, water-tight backline that he found waiting for him when he’d joined us three and a half years ago, and he soon sorted that out.
Next Season: Taylor has one year left on his Hillsborough contract, the year that reportedly tempted him to Hillsborough in the first place. As it stands he won’t be going into the new season as a first choice.