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Season Preview Part 6 02/08/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Final instalment… been in Africa since Monday etc, sorry if this is already out of date….

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

INS: Jeremy Helan (Manchester City, Undisclosed), Atdhe Nuhiu (Rapid Vienna, Free), Jacques Maghoma (Burton Albion, Free)

OUTS: Chris O’Grady (Barnsley, Undisclosed), Stephen Bywater (Millwall, Free), Bastien Hery (Rochdale, Free), Chris Lines (Port Vale, Free), Nejc Pecnik (Red Star Belgrade, Free), Nicky Weaver (Aberdeen, Free), Hayden White (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Julian Bennett, Matthew Fletcher, Harry Grant, Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers, End of Loan), Steve Howard (Hartlepool United, End of Loan), Leroy Lita (Swansea City, End of Loan), Seyi Olofinjana (Hull City*, End of Loan), Danny Pugh (Leeds United, End of Loan)

OUR EX-OWLS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Martin Taylor, Paul Wilkinson (Assistant Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 4-1 win at Hillsborough in which Wednesday collapsed in the second half, and a Forestieri-fuelled fightback to win a tight game at Vicarage Road.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kirkland
Buxton                 Llera         Gardner          R.Johnson
McCabe              Coke
Antonio               Maghoma                Helan
Nuhiu

VERDICT: As we left Hillsborough in November you’d have confidently predicted relegation for the Owls.  A strong first half performance had nonetheless only just about kept us at bay, but a woeful second half collapse devoid of spirit or a straw to cling to can’t have left many Wednesday fans optimistic.  This was in the middle of what turned out to be a run of seven consecutive defeats, and Dave Jones on the radio flitted between defensive sulkiness and gloomy depression.  Somehow they pulled themselves back from that, and though they were beaten again at Vicarage Road a few months later it was at least a side with a bit of fight about it, a much tougher proposition if still limited.  There’s been no great revolution over the summer – Jeremy Helan’s loan move has been made permanent, Jacques Maghoma could be a useful weapon, relieving Mikel Antonio from some of the creative responsibility.  But Wednesday still look flimsy in the middle of midfield, and haven’t got much up front – Leroy Lita on a permanent return would be a popular recruit, but talk of a gamble on Michael Chopra revealed the paucity of Jones’ hand.  Bottom half again; it would take bad luck with injuries for Wednesday to go down, but not that much bad luck.

WIGAN ATHLETIC

INS: Scott Carson (Bursaspor, Undisclosed), Grant Holt (Norwich City, Undisclosed), James Perch (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Stephen Crainey (Blackpool, Free), Marc-Antoine Fortuné (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Juan Carlos Garcia (Olimpia, Free), Chris McCann (Burnley, Free), Thomas Rogne (Celtic, Free)

OUTS: Aroune Koné (Everton, £6,000,000), Mauro Boselli (Club León, Undisclosed), Antolin Alcaraz (Everton, Free), Maynor Figueroa (Hull City, Free), Roman Golobart (Cologne, Free), Ronnie Stam (Standard Liège, Free), Peter Aylmer, Albert Crusat, Franco di Santo, David Jones, Adrian Lopez, Callum Morris, Filip Orsula, Josh Sumner, Ryan Watson, Joel Robles (Atlético Madrid*, End of Loan), Paul Scharner (SV Hamburg, End of Loan)

OUR EX-LATICS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Rob Kiernan

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two underwhelming 1-1 draws during Aidy Boothroyd’s Premiership season, the second of which rearranged after a rain-induced abandonment saw Fitz Hall harshly dismissed.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Carson
Boyce         Perch        Caldwell       Crainey
Watson
McCann                  McCarthy            Maloney
McManaman
Holt

VERDICT: Magnificent as Wigan’s cup win was on so many levels, there was a horrible inevitability about what followed just three days later. Inevitable, but despite the Latics’ notorious defensive vulnerability – nobody in the top flight conceded more last season – it was impossible to reconcile the team that were so impressive and vibrant in the Cup Final with relegation.  Since then, much has changed… Owen Coyle has replaced the Goodison-bound Martinez, slightly damaged goods after his unsuccessful spell at Bolton but with experience of getting out of this division.  Many players have left, a lot of them out of contract, but those that Coyle has brought in are largely Championship stalwarts, cherry picking the best players from clubs at this level unable to compete on wages.  Chris McCann, a former charge at Burnley.  Stephen Crainey, utterly dependable replacement for Figueroa at left back.  Grant Holt, a warhorse but more than good enough in this division. Carson, also damaged goods but a former England keeper.  And this on top of a very talented bunch of players who, much like Villa, really just needed to survive for another year in order to push on.  McManaman, Maloney, McCarthy might not all stay – and I’m writing this out of necessity a good week before you will read it – but there’s strength in depth in midfield and attack, with Coyle still keen to bolster his defence.  I made the mistake last year of overestimating the potential for the relegated teams to dominate the division, but it’s difficult to predict anything other than automatic for this Wigan squad.  Potential champions.

YEOVIL TOWN

INS: Kieffer Moore (Dorchester, Undisclosed), Joel Grant (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Sam Hoskins (Southampton, Free), Joe Jones (Leicester City, Free), Dan Seaborne (Southampton, Free), Billy Clifford (Chelsea, Six Month Loan), Michael Ngoo (Liverpool, Season Loan), Alan Tate (Swansea City, Six Month Loan)

OUTS: Dominic Blizzard (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Richard Hinds (Bury, Free), Gavin Williams (Woking, Free), Reuben Reid (Plymouth Argyle, Season Loan), Matthew Dolan (Middlesbrough, End of Loan), Vitalijs Maksimenko (Brighton & Hove Albion, End of Loan)

OUR EX-GLOVERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Joel Grant, Gary Johnson (Manager), Lewis Young

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: None – two sides have never met

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Stech
Edwards          Tate        Webster       McAllister
Grant           Clifford        Upson             Foley
Hayter          Madden

VERDICT: I’m not going to pretend to have any special insight here.  We’ve never played Yeovil before, I’ve not seen them play recently…  so all that follows has to be taken in that context.  On the face of it, based on such limited information it’s hard to view the season as anything but a struggle for the Glovers.  Promoted to this level for the first time in their history, they are only the third club to reach this tier having been promoted from the Conference since automatic ups and downs were introduced in 1986/87 – Colchester and Doncaster the previous, and both had earlier been relegated out of the Football League.  Having earned promotion in the face of much more established competition on the back of an average home gate of barely 4,000 it’s hard to pitch Yeovil as anything other than having overreached themselves.  Such Championship experience as exists in the squad is either at the veteran stage – Jamie McAllister and James Hayter both dropped out of the division for a reason – or, as with ex-‘orns Joel Grant and Lewis Young players that needed to drop a level or two to get games as youngsters.

That said, Yeovil have a goalscorer in Madden and a decent keeper in Stech, which gives them a puncher’s chance, and in moving early to secure good kids on loan from the top clubs, presumably with the promise of games rather than the more peripheral involvement they might get with bigger sides in the division they’re adopting a sensible strategy.  One hopes it’s enough, I have my doubts.  But what do I know?

WATFORD

INS: Almen Abdi  (Udinese, Undisclosed), Javier Acuña (Udinese, Undisclosed), Gabriele Angella (Udinese, Undisclosed), Ikechi Anya (Granada, Undisclosed), Cristian Battocchio  (Udinese, Undisclosed), Marco Cassetti  (Udinese, Undisclosed), Joel Ekstrand (Udinese, Undisclosed), Diego Fabbrini (Udinese, Undisclosed), Davide Faraoni (Udinese, Undisclosed), Iriney (Granada, Undisclosed), Daniel Pudil (Granada, Undisclosed), Uche Ikpeazu (Reading, Free), Reece Brown (Manchester United, Free), Lewis McGugan (Nottingham Forest, Free)

OUTS: Craig Forsyth (Derby County, Undisclosed), Matt Bevans (Oxford United, Free), Jack Bonham (Brentford, Free), Carl Dickinson (Port Vale, Free), John Eustace (Derby County, Free), Lee Hodson (Franchise FC, Free), Chris Iwelumo (Scunthorpe United, Free), Stephen McGinn (Sheffield United, Free), Mark Yeates (Bradford City, Free), Prince Buaben, Fitz Hall, Stephen Hamilton-Forbes, Piero Mingoia, Aaron Tumwa, Steve Leo Beleck (Udinese, End of Loan), Matthew Briggs (Fulham, End of Loan), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, End of Loan), Alex Geijo (Udinese, End of Loan), Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (Standard Liége, End of Loan), Neuton (Udinese, End of Loan),  Matěj Vydra (Udinese, End of Loan)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Almunia
Doyley          Angella        Ekstrand
Faraoni                          Iriney                             Pudil
Abdi            McGugan
Deeney           Fabbrini

VERDICT: Well this is new.

Not since 1997 has a Watford side gone into a season expecting to do quite this well.  Even then… another division, another era, but not the same, not like this.  With expectation comes a different kind of pressure of course, and a different atmosphere…  yes, yes, we were quiet and subdued at Wembley, but that’s not how I’ll remember last season.  On the pitch it was joyous and exuberant, as much of the time as we’ve any right to expect anyway, and off the pitch was much the same… the atmosphere in the semi-final games against Leicester (and in the earlier league meeting) was anything but subdued, the trip to Hull was raucous.  Expecting to win games, especially at home, can turn an atmosphere poisonous though and to this end the 1881 initiative is incredibly well timed.  A corner of relentless positiveness, and how I hope that’s how it turns out, for others to cling to and follow in the wake of could make a huge difference at Vicarage Road.

Our new status changes others’ opinions of us too, of course, as we’re all too aware.  On the pitch teams will come prepared, or at least less likely to be surprised.  We’re a team that others will want to stop playing first and foremost, a point with the chance of a goal on the break will be as much as most aspire to at Vicarage Road.  In the stands, in the media box there’s been plenty of negativity from elsewhere and it’s tedious to turn  it over again… some of it is based in jealousy, some of it is based in ignorance or fuelled by misinformation.  Some of it is just downright, witless, incompetent, irresponsible,willful bloody stupidity.  Either way, we’re not just another second tier club any more, whoever you support.  In the boardrooms, much of the resentment is surely based in the knowledge that this is ultimately not something that Watford did but something that was done to us, for better or for worse (and so much the better so far). And so it’s not something that any other club can copy unilaterally, however well resourced or determined.  Swapping pennants with Juventus isn’t quite the same.

Whatever. On the pitch it should go without saying that the squad looks significantly stronger even than last year.  The benefit of having most of those that did so well back again and on secure, largely long-term contracts is huge;  the new guys that are coming in are less of a known quantity, less of a banker, but the quality “on paper” is extraordinary and judged by last season’s hit rate we should do very well out of them.  If there’s a vulnerability it’s perhaps up front… we only have three strong out-and-out senior strikers.  Plus Fabbrini as an “off the striker” option.  Plus at least three very promising youngsters.  Which much of the division would be grateful for of course… ours is the only squad in the league that compares to those of the relegated Prem clubs in terms of depth.

Last season was a huge achievement in itself;  the danger in setting it as a benchmark is that you overlook the magnitude of that achievement.  That you assume that, given what we perceive as improvements to the squad, third is the least we should expect.  Well… no, third was a great result last year, it would be an achievement this year, not to be taken for granted – that sells short how well last year’s team did.  Nonetheless, I think we aspire to more than that this time.  But even that isn’t the point.

On the way back from Middlesbrough in January in the wake of another heartening victory as we started to seriously chase down the leaders there was a conversation in the car.  Would we prefer to go up this (last) season, or to stay down and win lots of games* in 2013/14.  There was a lot of umming and ahhing, not a clear decision.  A spurious, silly conversation of course, you don’t get to pick these things.  Nonetheless we do expect to win lots of games this season.  And it won’t be dull. It’ll be fun.  That’s the point.

* these may not have been the precise words used
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Comments»

1. simmos - 02/08/2013

Excellent review of the teams and I can’t find fault with your comments.

I agree that third was a huge achievement last season but our expectations are heightened not only by last season’s performances but the promise from the Board and Management that we would do better in our second season under Zola. Unlike so many others I am going to say that I believe we will achieve automatic promotion this year and with the additions already made to the team together with those promised I anticipate doing it in some style. I am not saying that it will be easy but looking at the squads of the other teams there are hardly any I would want to replace our players.

I may be setting myself up for disappointment but I do feel that we are the best team in this division and on the face of it a team which could hold its own in a higher division rather than making up the numbers like Palarse.

2. Nick - 02/08/2013

The only concern I have about our team is the lack of pace. So often last season Vydra created space for us to play because teams knew that if they left any room behind they would get punished.

James - 04/08/2013

I don’t think that is a major problem this season, simply because teams won’t allow us to attack on the break. We will be favourites in most games, and a lot of teams, particularly at the Vic, will have 10 men behind the ball at all times and hope to counter-attack us.

Guile, trickery and strength is what’s needed to break down tightly packed defences, and we have that in the current squad.

What we probably will miss from Vydra is his clinical finishing. Neither Deeney nor Forestieri are anything like as consistent in their finishing. Hopefully Fabbrini has a good eye for goal.


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