End of Term Report Part 6 30/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
22- Almen Abdi
An injury-hit second season had many of us fearing that Almen Abdi would join the likes of Nick Wright in being remembered for one glorious year before injury stole him from us. Twelve months on those fears have receded and we look forward to the Professor performing at the level he was surely destined to. His injury record is still a concern, as is reflected by three separate if mercifully brief spells out with injury -a shoulder and two hamstring – that restricted him to 28 league starts, but his relatively limited gametime didn’t prevent him from playing a huge role in our promotion. None of our wealth of midfield options offer the same combination of awareness, control, aggression, personality and composure as Almen; his relatively unsung nine goals last term included some absolute pearlers and he remains an absolute joy to watch, his name in the starting line-up a reason to approach to any game with anticipation.
Next Season: Little doubt about his ability to make the step up, we just need him to stay fit.
23 (#1) – Lloyd Dyer
There was a version of this bit forming in my head which, whilst falling I think some way short of pillorying Lloyd Dyer was nonetheless a little more aggressive than what follows. Troy’s recent and typically candid pronouncements on the subject prompted a bit of a mental rewrite… given that much of whatever one writes about Dyer’s Watford career, such as it’s been, must inevitably concern his attitude off the pitch as much as his performances on it, Troy is really rather better qualified to comment than I am. He’s better qualified in any event, thinking about it. Anyway, it’s beyond dispute that said Watford career has been a disappointment on any number of levels, “not a bad egg” or otherwise. Recruited last summer as part of a strategy of bringing in experienced and successful British Championship players he felt like a bit of a coup, even if the length of the contract offered was transparently his motivation for joining from newly promoted Leicester. Part of the role, therefore, was leadership and whilst there was clearly something afoot in the dressing room under Beppe earlier in the season, Dyer’s leadership was notoriously misdirected at Rotherham… not what he was brought in for. More fundamentally he didn’t set the left flank alight on the pitch either, and whilst left wing-back might not be his best position it’s one (along with full back) that he’s fielded before in his career. For all that he nicked a couple of significant goals you were left feeling rather short-changed by an increasingly peevish and frustrating figure.
Next Season: Lloyd spent the second half of the season on loan at Birmingham City; he has two years left on his Watford contract, but it’s difficult to envisage him forcing his way back into consideration.
23 (#2) – Ben Watson
See, what I thought we needed was something predominantly destructive. A Jonathan Hogg type… someone to hare around, win the ball, lay it off simple, carry on. Instead… instead we got a different type of destructive. Ben Watson was hardly an unknown quantity… breaking through in a Crystal Palace side that we seemed to play four times a season at the time he’d then spent four and a bit seasons playing for Wigan in the top flight culminating, famously, in that Cup Final winning goal. His low-key longevity was tacit testimony to his ability, but Cup Final goals aside his isn’t an eye-catching contribution. So it’s only with the benefit of watching him glue our midfield together, the ultimate continuity player, “destructive” in the sense that more destructive than taking the ball off the other lot is not letting them have it in the first place. Despite all of which, Ben has on a couple of occasions given possession away conspicuously and expensively… at home to Ipswich, and so very nearly at Brighton. These, however, are unrepresentative aberrations borne of taking responsibility. Overall, Watson has been the season’s unlikeliest success story.
Next Season: Ben Watson’s Watford career began at half time at home to Blackpool. We were two down, but ended up 7-2 on top. It would be overstating matters to claim that this was an allegory for his impact on our season… but he started every game from then on in. With pushing 100 Prem starts already, he’s nailed on for a starting berth next season.
24- Odion Ighalo
You may disagree, but I’d argue that Odion Ighalo looked like a decent signing from the very start. Ostensibly signed as a fourth option rather than a starter, he looked more assertive than Alex Geijo, more willing and positive than Mathias Ranégie. What he didn’t look was particularly prolific… I remember commenting to my co-editor during an early game that it was easy to see how at Granada he had developed a reputedly cult following despite not scoring many goals. I was wrong, badly wrong, on one count… suggested early in the season when he scored three goals in three consecutive starts. This was, of course, to be followed up with a particularly prolific two-month spell after Christmas in which he scored 14 goals, fired yet more vim into our forward line and propelled us towards the top two. Ostensibly made of rubber, capable of bouncing up off the deck and ricocheting between challenges whilst staying on his feet he became yet another problem for opponents to think about and laid down a challenge to his colleagues in the forward line. Note the player of the season, but ultimately as key as anyone.
Next Season: He might not feature as frequently… but a positive, willing and relentless pain in the arse off the bench.
End of Term Report Part 5 27/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
18- Daniel Pudil
An odd season for Daniel. For a while there’s been talk of us looking for left-sided competition; with the exception of Albert Riera’s brief and slouchy loan in 2013/14 it never really arrived. And yet despite featuring as regularly as ever earlier in the season Daniel has gradually slipped into the role of squad player under Slav with Ikechi Anya and Tommie Hoban often preferred on the left flank roles in our various and varying formations. Daniel appears to offer what he always did… bags of stamina and willingness, decent (but not infallible) going forward, decent (but not infallible) defending. His form earlier in this season had arguably been more dependable than ever… and yet it’s suddenly, particularly at this higher level, difficult to see him as part of the regular first team picture.
Next Season: Daniel struggled to hold down a place in the absence of a like-for-like left-footed competitor in the Championship – it’s inconceivable that we won’t be looking to strengthen down that side. You’d like to see Daniel hang around though; decent left-sided players shouldn’t be taken for granted. We’ve had some uncomfortable experiences there in the past…
19- Diego Fabbrini
Another character who feels like a long time ago, Fabbrini is perhaps the best example of the sort of by-product of the Pozzo system that sees players nominally still on the books of the club whilst long since having had little to do with the first team. Diego started two league games this season, and hasn’t been anything like a regular in the squad for eighteen months. Since that time he has been loaned out three times, twice this season to Championship clubs and it’s difficult to see him forcing his way back into the picture at Vicarage Road. The bigger picture remains a bit of a puzzle… a player with obvious natural ability, ability that got him into the Italian national squad, who in other ways seems ill-equipped to be a footballer with the result that he flatters to deceive in a succession of loans with moderate second-tier clubs. Ian Holloway’s treatment of Fabbrini at Millwall was instructive, publicly bigging him up, cooing over his talent and praising his application suggesting a sensitive character who needs a confidence boost. It seems unlikely that, in the longer term, we’ll see him make the most of his ability at Vicarage Road.
Next Season: Two years left on his contract, but even with the 2014/15 squad you’d struggle to see him in a squad of 25. Another loan – or a permanent departure – seems likely.
20- Matěj Vydra
In a season yielding all sorts of superlative statistics, you’d have to wonder how often our third highest scoring player managed as many of 16 goals in a season. Similarly easy to overlook the contribution of Vydra whose profile has been much lower than it was two years ago when, as an unknown quantity, he was voted the division’s Player of the Year. To do so would do him a disservice… he’s had to recover mentally from a season at West Brom where, having reached the top flight, things didn’t quite work for him. Then, back at Watford, he’s no longer an automatic start but tagging in and out with Odion Ighalo for the most part… and yet he’s always been positive, his movement is tremendous and if you’re in any doubt as to his value sitting on the shoulder of the last defender or scampering into a space that nobody else anticipated think back to 2013/14 and how, despite Troy’s best efforts, we were so much easier to defend against. The problem then, if there’s been one, is that Matěj hasn’t always appeared to be enjoying himself very much. Whilst his play has been positive, his demeanour has occasionally been peevish, even sulky. Occasionally this can be put down to high standards, others not seeing his run and allowing what might have been brilliant to disappear, forgotten, into an unchecked ledger of missed opportunities. Sometimes, disappointment… such as when he left the field within an instant of the final whistle against Sheffield Wednesday. And ultimately it’s not a problem… no law saying he has to play with a smile on his face. As long as he’s happy.
Next Season: There can be no doubt as to the value of his team, witness his marvellous breaking with Troy at Leeds, the professional unfussy composure with which he dispatched the clinching goal at Brighton. Part of the armoury… one would hope that he will return from Udinese once again in some capacity.
21- Ikechi Anya
In some ways, Ikechi is quite a crude weapon. You know what you’re going to get, for one thing… lots of energy, lots of aggression, relatively little craft actually but buckets of personality. His international profile would appear to be higher than his domestic success would justify but there are any number of reasons for that… his style, or rather the value of a player who will chase relentlessly and with the pace to fly beyond a high line is perhaps better suited to playing for a side that will counter-attack rather than dominating possession. Our formation at Watford asks more of him as a defensive player, typically, which he performs doggedly enough even if his instincts aren’t particularly defensive and even if, as we’ve already discussed in this review, the wing-back’s task can be a thankless one. When Ikechi has received criticism it’s perhaps fuelled by the expectation of more from Ikechi’s raw talent, but it’s clearly nonsense to suggest that there is no end product… two wonderful assists at Millwall bear testimony to that, even if he will have been disappointed to end the season without a goal.
Next Season: A prominent character for the last three seasons, the Celtic rumours have been too persistent to be completely without foundation and as others have pointed out it would not be inconsistent with the Pozzo approach to cash in on a player when at the peak of his value. You’d kinda hope he stays though… apart from anything else, we’re still going to need as wide an array of weapons as we can get.
End of Term Report Part 4 24/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
14- Juan Carlos Paredes
Juan Carlos Paredes arrived to something of a fanfare. He’d played in the World Cup for starters, his conspicuous contributions from Ecuador’s right back slot coming at a time when our interest was merely rumoured and therefore offered him a lustre. This lustre was enhanced by his thunderous opening-day performance in the demolition of Bolton, a game that saw him on the front foot and at full throttle. All of which perhaps heightened expectations to a rather unreasonable level… leaving aside the transition he was making, playing wing-back in any side can be a bit of a thankless task. You are simultaneously expected to provide the side’s attacking width and the defensive security of a full-back and as such it’s hardly surprising that few have excelled in the role. Marco Cassetti, for example, offered more reliable and penetrative delivery from the right, but he couldn’t cover the turf half as effectively as Paredes. Ikechi Anya perhaps matches Paredes for pace and stamina, but not for brute strength. And if Juan Carlos has rather too often been guilty of watching balls drift over his head to an overlapping threat… he’s hardly alone in that. There have been games this season where Juan Carlos has looked out of place, awkward, uncomfortable. There have been others where he has rampaged down the right flank scattering opponents in his wake, utterly unplayable. At Middlesbrough in October we had roughly 45 minutes of each. Incredibly quick and built like an articulated truck, Paredes’ 32 league starts were bettered only Gomes, Deeney and Tözsér. A force for good, then, A force, at any rate.
Next Season: Seems inconceivable that we won’t strengthen in the wing-back positions so Juan Carlos may face competition, but likely to be a regular starter.
15- Craig Cathcart
If Paredes came in to a big reception, Craig Cathcart had something of a lower profile… from a Blackpool side that had just bombed the second half of the previous season and narrowly avoided the drop, and an underwhelming loan spell several years earlier Cathcart wasn’t a name that set pulses racing. Word from Bloomfield Road was that here was a decent enough defender… if we could keep him fit. Fair to say then that Craig exceeded all expectations. An unflappable, unflashy, utterly competent centre-back who contributed a couple of special and significant goals to boot, it’s difficult to bring to mind any weak performances… and easily forgotten that he had barely started a game before the trip to Fulham in early December, after which he was a fixture. His contribution is best summarised by the fact that in a terrific season full of eye-catching goalscoring contributions he was in many people’s top three for player of the season.
Next Season: Every inch a Premier League defender.
16- Sean Murray
Hard, despite oneself, for your heart not to sink when you read Sean’s name. You want to be in my place. Sean’s spectacular explosion into the first team under Sean Dyche had been preceded by a long, loud clarion call from the youth team but that building up and the half-season spell as the magic dust in the last pre-Pozzo side that yielded seven goals has been followed by three seasons in which for varying reasons and to varying degrees it hasn’t quite happened for Sean. His season this time around was ended by knee surgery in January, but prior to that he’d managed one full ninety minutes. Still hugely popular with the support, as evidenced by the rapturous response offered by an admittedly ready-to-be-rapturous crowd to his appearance in the away end at Brighton, his assessment is no different to what we wrote a year ago; he needs to find his place. Difference I guess is that he’s a year older (albeit still a young-looking 21) and now trying to break into a Premier League side. Nobody who remembers those opening months will be ready to give up on Sean just yet, but he’s got a job on.
Next Season: Get fit, get out on loan, get some games and become a star again.
17- Gabriel Tamaș
Yes, that was this season. Over the summer of 2014 we had a number of recruitment requirements. A goalkeeper was one. Some Championship experience was another. The third was probably a big brute of a centre-back, someone to beat up opposing strikers and get their head on crosses when such was the requirement. Gabriel Tamaș came in with a colourful reputation, and his performances for the Hornets were similarly eventful. Far from the steadying rock we were after the Romanian seemed throroughly erratic – up for a confrontation to the point of spoiling for a fight if he was great in a physical battle he was thoroughly uncomfortable being run at and brought an element of Keith Dublin’s misplaced excitability to our back line. Thrills and spills at the wrong end of the pitch. Nonetheless, he started every game until he was red carded for booting Huddersfield’s Harry Bunn up in the air at the end of August; on his first start after suspension, he fell like a giraffe with it’s foot caught in a snare, twisted his knee and wasn’t seen in a yellow shirt again joining the likes of Xavier Gravelaine on the page of Watford history headed “brief but memorable”.
Next Season: His contract cancelled in January, Tamaș is now with former European Cup winners Steaua Bucharest.
End of Term Report Part 3 21/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
9 – Troy Deeney
Two years ago, I was a little uncomfortable. Not with the decision to give Troy a second chance, to retain him despite his time inside, fully on board with that… but with the suggestion that his retention was a value judgement influenced by how the Pozzos saw him as a player. Shouldn’t have been about his ability for me, should be a principle thing. Perhaps I’m naive, and it’s not my money of course, but a young kid on the fringes of the team would have deserved a second chance as much as the team’s figurehead. Thing is… Troy wasn’t a figurehead at that stage. Sure, he had established himself as a regular but 12 goals under Sean Dyche, albeit largely in the second half of the season, was hardly the stuff of legend. And certainly we were squinting at Troy’s contribution and seeing glimpses of Tommy Mooney, his erstwhile mentor at Walsall, a rugged wholehearted trooper who was gradually refining his game, if not his approach. Nonetheless… and irrespective of whether his perceived potential should have influenced any decision, the judgement on Deeney was as spot on and as crucial as any with respect to players brought in. The club accurately judged both his ability and the likelihood of him seizing the chance that was given him. Eulogies tend to make dull reading; you know this stuff as well as I do so I’ll keep this brief… Troy has emerged as a leader and a figurehead worthy of a Roy of the Rovers hero. A captain, a monster, a terrific finisher, a deft footballer, an extremely likeable man. Our promotion was on the cards from the moment that the Pozzos took the extraordinary decision to shut the door to all offers for him in August as an auction pushed into eight figures.
Next Season: Leading from the front. Recent history has seen a few big, physical strikers – Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert, Charlie Austin – come up from the Football League and do well in the Premier League. Troy compares to any of them. We could sign Messi and Ronaldo over the summer, Troy would still be the main man.
10- Lewis McGugan
For all that he’s still a Watford player at the time of writing, Lewis McGugan feels an awfully long time ago. Which, all things considered, probably suits both parties. As this article reflected last year, he scored a lot of goals, played a lot of games and added a lot of flicks and tricks without ever getting the crowd fully onside. This season he started five league games; we lost three of them and Lewis only finished one. What happened to our midfield as he left it demonstrated what his contribution had lacked… a sense of urgency, judgement and purpose. Watson, Abdi, Guedioura, Munari, Layún all had iffy games at different times, they’re all far more convincing than Lewis was.
Next Season: Lewis McGugan needs to be a big fish in a small pond… a star in a moderate team. A workmanlike team in which he’s the star, the bringer of joy, cherished for what he can do more than he irritates with what he can’t. Sheffield Wednesday may well be that side. We don’t need a Craig Ramage right now.
11- Fernando Forestieri
If there’s someone you feel for this season, it’s Nando. The “much-vaunted” Watford forward line that the media have talked about had three names in it, and Nando was the fall guy, the one missed off the end. That’s the deal, unfortunately… just as those pundits who assessed Norwich, Boro, Derby’s quality in isolation and decided that they would go up automatically because of how good they were missed a crucial consideration, merely being good hasn’t been enough to keep Nando involved in the side in the face of furious competition. Which isn’t to say that he’s had a bad season… his five goals and a six assists came over only a dozen starts, only one of which since the turn of the year. He’s put in performances of great vitality and impudence as ever, his goal against Leeds a thing of joy and wonder, he’s been willing to turn his hand to a number of roles – including the Abdi job, not unsuccessfully – and got knocks at unfortunate times. But he’s the forgotten man in the forward armoury, and given that his incorrigible effervescence hasn’t always been a force for good that was somehow inevitable. For every game that he dominates there’s a game where he looks off the beat. For every little piece of genius that makes a goal there’s an incident like the one at Wolves (where the much-shared camera angle does him no favours, but them’s the risks you run). He’s still a piece of magic dust, a get-out-of-jail card to have on the bench, but his ability should demand more than that.
Next Season: Under the radar perhaps, you’d still back Nando to be an asset in the top flight since nobody else offers that combination of magic boots and bloody-minded tenacity. Our recruitment strategy might dictate whether he gets the chance.
12 – Lloyd Doyley
For a moment there, you had to wonder… is this it? After however many utterly dependable, charismatic years in the first team squad, is this it? Our promotion season has seen Lloydinho come in at under 10 senior starts for the first time since he broke into the side in 2001, he hasn’t taken to the field in 2015. The 19 non-playing substitute appearances put a slightly different gloss on that and underline the very strong case that would be made for retaining Lloyd were we still in the second tier… having lots of good players is one thing; having a good player who isn’t going to kick up a stink at not being a first choice but will work hard and stay positive and be that versatile defensive option from the bench (and tick a home-grown box to boot) is something else. But in the top flight…? You’d like to think that there’s still a role in the squad for someone who will come in and do a job diligently and competently. Premier League squad size restrictions may be a constraint, even if eight of the 25 need to be home grown. The fact that Aidy Boothroyd, always an advocate of Lloyd’s, started him in fewer than half of our games the last time round, wasn’t in itself encouraging. Me? I’d still keep him on. A solid defender, a Watford personality, part of the glue that holds it all together. Others will say that Lloyd’s Time Has Finally Come. Many of them were saying the same ten years ago; clinging blindly to a position that will inevitably come to pass at some point is hardly prophetic…
Next Season: …but much may depend on just what Lloyd wants. Will he be satisfied with what might be a peripheral role? Or would he prefer to move to a club where he’ll be a dogged, charismatic regular and leave us sighing with a little regret at seeing him in another team’s shirt, whatever our own future holds? Time will tell… but that the club are talking to him about a new contract is yet another sign that something is fundamentally right at Vicarage Road.
End of Term Report Part 2 18/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 (#2)- Adlène Guedioura
An oft overlooked feature of John Barnes’ fabulous ability was that he was a bully as well as a terrific footballer. Not just able to beat people with skill, but with brawn instead should the need arise. Guedioura isn’t in the same class as Barnes… but he offers the same combination of weapons, a fine footballer(witness his marvellous assists against Derby, Boro and Wigan) but a beast and an athlete too. It’s a potent mix, and one of which Slav quickly recognised the value in a Watford midfield in which the former is a prerequisite but lacking the latter. A moderate success in a first spell crowned with a monstrous display at Cardiff; his second spell saw him establish himself as a vital component of the side that secured promotion to the extent that it’s perfectly credible to add his unavailability to the list of stuff wot done for us against Sheffield Wednesday.
Next Season: Guedioura joined Palace as part of Ian Holloway’s scattergun recruitment policy in the summer of 2013. He has since started three times as many games for us as he has for the Eagles; his arrival on a permanent basis would be a huge boost over the summer.
6 – Joel Ekstrand
A difficult season for Joel who has had long spells out, first with a lower back injury and then the cruciate ligament damage sustained against Ipswich in March. Significant that excluding those spells of enforced absence – and two briefer absences caused by suspension and a hamstring injury – Ekstrand started every league game for which he was available bar one, the draw at Ewood Park in which he came off the bench. When he was available he did well, particularly in the first half of the season and particularly when part of a back 4 when he was arguably the pick of our centre-backs suggesting that the wobbly form and mentality of his difficult second season had been left behind him. Not an extravagant player, not a star, but a very confident tick next to whichever box at the back you slot him into.
Next Season: ….but not for a while, alas. Prognosis is that we won’t see Ekstrand again this side of the New Year, and whilst his mobility and comfort in possession both ought to lend themselves to the Premier League, previous top flight seasons have suggested that players injured at the wrong time don’t always get the chance to play themselves back into the side. Fingers crossed that Joel, an automatic pick for the best part of three seasons now, bucks that trend.
7- Miguel Layún
A midfielder or wing-back with, famously, more Twitter followers than Tottenham Hotspur, it’s fair to say that we haven’t consistently seen the best of Miguel Layún just yet. That’s not a problem in itself – we’ve had the luxury of ample midfield options, and should be grateful for the facility to allow a player of undoubted quality time to settle in after a major transition – and it’s not to say that he’s played badly. But he’s not yet the unqualified success that we’d hoped… or consistently made the devastating contribution suggested by first couple of home games against admittedly overrun Charlton and Blackpool. Nimble, clever and versatile, Layún has occasionally seemed to expect too much time in possession and looked lightweight and bullyable in the hurlyburliest of our encounters. Nonetheless, his assertive outing against a physically robust Sheffield Wednesday side on the final day – critically misjudged pass aside – offered much encouragement. More to come from Miguel, one suspects.
Next Season: Layún has quality and senior experience; he was bold enough to take a risky decision in moving from a top club in Mexico to the English second tier in defiance of criticism from his national coach, and comes across extremely positively. Jury still out, but looking on expectantly…
8- Dániel Tözsér
It’s a measure of both Dániel’s ability and the strength of our midfield options to point out that as recently as the first half of the campaign it would seem inconceivable that he should be anything other than an automatic pick in the centre of midfield… and yet as the season drew to a close it was the Hungarian who was most regularly the odd man out, not starting more than two consecutive games from the end of January onwards. It wasn’t just the competition provided by the favoured three of Watson, Guedioura and Abdi either… Tözsér’s form did dip, and more than once – memorably against Wolves on Boxing Day – he was identified as the man to close down in possession particularly aggressively, the man who would both make us tick if left unchecked but also perhaps want half a second too long with the ball at his feet. Nonetheless, Dániel’s ability to suck the ball to his control, to dictate the pace of a game and, on his best days, to trample all over a game like a colossus, was still evident. He may not always have started, but he almost always played a part whether we needed to slow things down or make a breakthrough in the latter stages… only once did he fail to take the field in a League encounter.
Next Season: In helping kill games by retaining possession he has been the Dementor of our midfield, sucking hope and belief from opponents around him, and his free kicks remain a thing of beauty. Halfway through his two-year loan from struggling Parma, it will be a joy to see him in the Premier League.
End of Term Report Part 1 15/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
For the ninth summer running, a blow-by-blow breakdown of the ‘orns squad. Moses Ashikodi was in the first one. Yes, really.
1- Heurelho Gomes
When Manuel Almunia left last summer it was interesting that the club went for a similar blueprint in replacing him…. an experienced stopper with top flight pedigree who had perhaps fallen out of favour at their club and was out in the cold. There was a degree of risk involved – the twelve months that we committed to initially more reflection of this than of his (then) 33 years. Like Almunia, Gomes has been guilty of high-profile errors in the past; unlike the Spaniard, Gomes’ forceful personality has appeared robust to such challenges. Such doubts as there may have been have been blown away over the course of the season. Gomes seemed to immediately establish himself as a leader in the dressing room – lest we forget, we needed a few more of those – and his level of performance has risen throughout to the point where his contribution in the run in was as critical as anyone’s, including those of our vaunted forward line. He’s never going to be one to hesitate in coming off his line and this might make life more… exciting than it need be on occasions but the number of occasions when he’s misjudged this has been small and we’re a much stronger side for the Brazilian’s presence. His exuberant goal celebrations are also worthy of praise, lessening the distance to the incident when the critical development has been at the far side to an Watford away end.
Next Season: The club have a year’s option on his contract and it seems inconceivable that we won’t exercise that clause. Rumours suggest that a senior rival to Gomes may be brought in permitting Jonathan Bond to go out on loan – either way, you’d expect Gomes to be literally the first name on the teamsheet come August.
3- Gianni Munari
All things considered Gianni Munari can consider himself unfortunate, I think. Signed on a year’s loan from Parma Munari quickly established himself in the first team squad, being involved in all but two of our games between our draw at Blackburn in late September and the hard-fought victory against the same side in early February. No small statement that, in the context of our season and of our midfield options… and Munari gave us something a bit different. 6 foot 1 and built like a tank he was as close to a midfield enforcer as this current model has permitted, his physical presence invaluable in some of those winter scraps. He’s more than that though… if not the deftest of our midfielders he nonetheless had enough about him to top our assists table at the end of the year as well as finding the net three times through knack for well-timed, bullish charges into the box. So what did for Munari’s involvement was Ben Watson, a different type of weapon altogether. Watson’s value in gluing our play together saw him start every game from his full debut against Bournemouth to the end of the season and Munari was the fall guy to the extent that he scarcely made it off the bench thereafter, even when it seemed that a bit of welly in the middle might be helpful.
Next Season: Gianni’s lack of involvement in the latter half of the season doesn’t suggest that there will be moves to sign him permanently at the expiry of his one year loan. Wouldn’t rule it out altogether, wouldn’t be upset if he did return – we still need physical presence and Munari has played 100-odd games in Serie A – but don’t think it’s very likely. With home club Parma bankrupt, Munari’s future could lie elsewhere.
4- Gabriele Angella
A more quietly effective season for Gaby this time round. That’s my impression anyway… perhaps I’ve just begun to take him for granted. A regular in the side save for a two month absence with a knee injury in October/November that coincided with our run of defeats, Angella remains a reliable source of competent defending, raking long passes, set piece threat and flicks of the fringe. He does have a mistake on him, although in suggesting as much it’s only fair to note that the formation we’ve played most often does rather lend itself to the defenders being pulled around a bit, but has coped effortlessly with switches between three- and four at the back looking equally comfortable in either set-up. Looking back on what I’ve just written, it comes to something when dogged competence is rewarded with mere acknowledgement rather than fulsome praise, but that’s where we are…
Next Season: Angella’s initial reluctance to come to Watford in 2012 may have contributed to ongoing rumours about him not being happy in England, at one stage this season prompting denials from the club that he was set to return to Udinese. It would, therefore, not be the biggest surprise in the world if he returned to the Stadio Friuli although you’d hope that having finally achieved top flight status Gaby might be tempted to hang around a while yet. We’d be all the better for it.
5 (#1) – Keith Andrews
We should start by acknowledging that there really wasn’t an awful lot wrong with Andrews’ contribution on the pitch. He was signed to tick a few boxes… experience of the Championship, a steadying influence in the midfield, someone to drop anchor, shield the defence and organise when such was our requirement. All of this he did well enough, contributing a very fine assist in a rehearsed move against Millwall into the bargain. The on the pitch stuff wasn’t really the problem and as such, being witness to only a snapshot of what happens off the pitch, it’s difficult to comment fully. Suggestions of an abrasive character, however, are provided by Andrews’ track record. It’s not unusual these days for a player to rack up a load of clubs but for someone with sufficient quality to have been picked for Ireland 35 times not to have managed more than 80 appearances for any of his twelve clubs suggests a problem; certainly he’d had “issues” at Wolves, West Brom and Bolton before signing for the Hornets on loan. At times vocally proclaiming the quality of our squad, at others vocally questioning the inclusion and exclusion of players, the general “vocal” thing may have been at the core of it. Either way, reports soon emerged of a falling out with Slav and Andrews was excluded from training as we tried to work our way out of a relatively expensive season-long loan. Justified or not, the exclusion of Andrews and others coincided with a dramatic improvement in the team’s cohesion and spirit, so it’s impossible to criticise that call in retrospect.
Next Season: Out of contract at Bolton, for whom he hadn’t turned out in two and a half years, Andrews has suggested that he will be joining the coaching staff at Franchise.
Helping Hands 2014/2015 10/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Good grief, the last season hasn’t even finished yet. I went to IKEA yesterday. In May. My daughters and I ambled arm in arm through the warehouse bit wistfully humming favourite tunes…. “Troo-oy Deeney, Watford’s number nine….”, “Since I was young….”, “Bounce in a minute”, and so forth as Tsega rolled her eyes in our wake. The expectation was that the emotionally demanding last few weeks, months would leave us grateful for a bit of a rest, a bit of down time. That sentiment appears to have lasted less than a week…
So here we are again, for what appears to be the eighth annual analysis of where our goals came from, giving me an excuse to relive them all through video clips and match reports. And yes, this article has become increasingly straightforward to compile over time, leaving me wondering whether a more detailed breakdown might be appropriate (right foot/left foot/header/other? Inside/outside area? Set pieces? etc etc. Maybe next year).
One factor which might make the article easier still to compile is the proliferation of alternative sources of this information from which to plagiarise; however unlike scoring of goals and despite what some conceited sources might have you believe there is no undisputed definition of what an assist IS, which justifies defining my own rules and thus being able to summarise and interpret consistently. And watch them all again. So… my definition of an assist is relatively broad and generous. The last pass, obviously, but also the shot that was parried for a follow-up, being taken down for a penalty, both the flick-on to a cross AND the cross itself, and so on.
Consequently it’s not surprising to see Troy topping the list, a good proportion of his assists taking the same form as his last, barrelling into the Sheffield Wednesday area, sucking attention towards himself, battering a shot off Kirkland and allowing Vydra to nod home. More surprising perhaps the margin of his supremacy over last year’s table topper Ikechi Anya who comes in second despite, once again, a few voices questioning his contribution. Also significant perhaps that all 13 of those asssists came after Christmas, the first coming at Cardiff City at the end of December.
Noteworthy also is the very low number of individuals who have played a significant proportion of games, which tells you much about the way the team has been managed in a campaign relatively light on serious injuries. Only Heurelho Gomes managed more than 40 starts of our 49 League and Cup games; everyone else missed at least 10 with only another half dozen missing less than 20. Allied to that, and the fact that we’ve had such a tremendous season, is the fact that when your eye runs down that list there are really very few names you’d have reservations about, certainly relatively few about whom you’re thinking “well he’s got to go”, despite the number of players employed.
Perhaps most surprising in a campaign in which he’s managed nine goals and a much more sustained contribution than last season is that Almen Abdi only manages three assists; he managed more than that last season in one third of the number of games.
Adlene Guedioura’s contribution is demonstrated by four assists, all of them magnificent… a vicious cross with his left foot at Wigan, an impossible pass for Ighalo at Derby, an arcing far post missile to Deeney against Middlesbrough and a thumping drive at the City Ground, gobbled up by Almen Abdi. Fingers crossed all over Hertfordshire that his signing can be made permanent over the summer.
Finally it’s worth noting the contribution of Gianni Munari, unfortunate victim of Ben Watson’s arrival and impressive impact in January, who had managed more assists than anyone – six – by the end of the year but only started half a dozen games thereafter. Such was his physical prowess that it was easy to overlook the flicks on and awareness that contributed to our fluency earlier in the season.
Be back soon with the End of Term report. Enjoy the summer…
|Deeney||13||38+5||21||CAR (A), HUD (A), BLP (H), BLP (H), BLP (H), BLP (H), LEE (A), LEE (A), WLV (A), REA (H), REA (H), BRI (A), SHW (H)|
|Anya||7||28+8||0||MBO (A), WIG (H), WIG (H), REA (A), MIL (A), MIL (A), BIR (H)|
|Forestieri||6||12+14||5||LEE (H), SHW (A), BOL (A), REA (H), REA (H), WIG (A)|
|Munari||6||23+8||3||LEE (H), LEE (H) , NOF (H), FUL (A), FUL (A), CAR (A)|
|Ighalo||6||25+3||20||ROT (A), DON (H – LC), CHA (H), BOL (A), DER (A), BRI (A)|
|Vydra||6||32+13||16||SHW (A), MIL (H), FUL (A), FUL (A), BRE (A), LEE (A)|
|Angella||5||33+3||2||BOL (H), BOL (H), CHA (H), BLB (H), WLV (A)|
|Tözsér||5||35+11||5||BOL (H), HUD (H), HUD (H), CHA (H), BLP (H)|
|Guedioura||4||13+4||3||WIG (A), DER (A), MBO (H), NOF (A)|
|Paredes||4||33+7||0||SHW (A), CAR (A), CHA (A), BRE (A)|
|Abdi||3||28+5||9||HUD (H), BOL (A), NOF (A)|
|Dyer||2||6+10||3||BLP (A), DER (H)|
|Layún||2||14+3||0||BLP (H), ROT (H)|
|Watson||2||19+1||0||BOL (A), MBO (H)|
|Cathcart||2||29+1||3||BLB (A), NOF (A)|
|Fabbrini||1||3+1||1||STV (A – LC)|
Watford 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (02/05/2015) 03/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Almost an hour before kick-off, Vicarage Road is heaving; navigating the mass of people is difficult. There are touts on the corner of Whippendell Road; further down Vicarage Road there are weaselly looking blokes selling opportunistic clumsily constructed flags. In the ground, there are tales told of Boris Johnson being seen on the High Street in a Watford scarf. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Premier League.
The atmosphere is odd. It was always going to be… different. The furious focus was on promotion, the celebration that many heads are still recovering from recognised that and for all that Troy and the team had been vocal and clear on the objective, there’s a sense of “job done” that pervades the ground. The 1881’s excellent foil display, the flags, the confetti are tremendous but there’s no urgency to any of it. The tension, the fervour, has gone… this is a sideshow, a bonus. Personally I’d expected this to work for us… that stripped of the pressure of having to win, merely wanting to win would make it less edgy, less anxious. Either way the mood was one of expectation.
2- And that expectation really should have been rewarded by a first half that saw us dominate. It’s not hard to see how Wednesday have managed to drop anchor in mid-table despite not scoring any goals… they’re obdurate and organised. But they rode their luck. Deeney crashed through before going down over a Kirkland glove, impossible to judge from our end but a fair shout from the TV pictures. Anya fluttered in from the left and crashed a rising drive into the side netting. Eventually, just as we were getting a bit edgy, Matej Vydra capitalised on Kirkland’s block to Deeney’s shot to head us into the lead and the pressure was relieved. Still we pressed, and two gorgeous moves ended with Almen Abdi spurning chances… the first slightly the harder as Deeney’s pass ran across him, the second less explicable, Motta – who had enjoyed the freedom of the right flank – and Deeney combining to set up the Swiss midfielder who struck over.
Meanwhile Wednesday couldn’t secure as much as controlled possession in our half until Stuart Gray made a tactical change and brought on the massive Nuhiu up front after about half an hour. Thereafter Wednesday did at least have something for the ball to stick to in attack, but they still ended the half without a shot on or off target. “There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of them scoring” is what everyone was thinking, but of course nobody said it. That would have been tempting fate.
3- You’ll have noticed that this report is rather later off the press than usual. Such is the luxury afforded by automatic promotion of course, no play-offs looming for us later this week. I’ve been painting daughter #1’s bedroom, but that’s not really why the report is late. Like many, I suspect, I left the stadium feeling choked and bitter and angry at all sorts of things. I might have benefitted from immediate catharsis, celebration in the town centre but didn’t have that luxury so I’ve been fuming and sulking. And frankly, our season deserves better… better than to conclude with that second half, better than to be concluded on these pages, for what they’re worth, by a middle aged man in a major strop. So here’s the deal. Thunk 4 is about the second half and the events that surrounded it. When I’ve finished writing and you’ve finished reading we’ll both watch the subsequent videos to get things back in perspective and never discuss this game again…
4- The second half wasn’t awful in the sense that our performance disintegrated… certainly Wednesday put up more of a fight; they even had a shot, which was moderately exciting particularly for whoever it hit halfway up the Vicarage Road end. We had what chances there were… Abdi with an uncharacteristically heavy touch spurning his best of the half, Deeney not quite getting above a cross and crashing his header over. But by and large we seemed to settle for possession, the knowledge that toothless Wednesday would have to come at us and reliance on our ability on the break. Choking, then, that having based so much of our success on clinically taking our chances in close games, that particular quality abandoned us with the title within grasp. Choking, to a lesser extent, that our recently honed ability to keep mediocre opposition at arms length didn’t last three minutes longer. Blame can be dished out in all sorts of directions, but not without any great justification… incredibly harsh to blame Abdi, sculptor of so much that has been beautiful for his failure to become the fourth Hornet in double figures for the season. Harsh to blame Layún, who otherwise put in his sharpest performance since his debut, for the awful pass that Wednesday broke from. Less harsh to blame Lee Probert, even if his greatest crimes this season came in January in Dorset. He perhaps should have given Deeney a penalty, his awarding of a free kick against Connolly was harsh. As for the supporters… similarly, perhaps Watford’s best ever season in this regard (cap doffed again to the 1881) doesn’t deserve to be remembered for the cretin whose pitch invasion interrupted Wednesday’s free kick, for the vermin responsible for flares who deserve bans from the ground, for the vanity of those who decided that invading the pitch was more important that having a reason to invade the pitch. Ed Perchard has penned a wordier assassination of these imbeciles in In the Wolf’s Mouth but in any case, choking as the narrowness of the margin was these were all irritants. None should be used as excuses for our failure to put Wednesday away. Far tougher challenges await. Now then… breathe, and…
5- There was a Derby fan on 606 on Saturday night, bemoaning the Rams’ fate. How could “comfortably the most talented squad of players in the division” (pffft) end up in such a position? Leaving aside the critical detail in that assertion and generalising a little… the point that the Derby fan missed was that it wasn’t all about Derby. This season, more than any other season, being good hasn’t been enough. You’ve got to be better than everyone else. Derby had a bad injury at the wrong time, lost momentum and never regained it because the competition was furious. The top of the table was not just competitive, but of extraordinarily high quality. As we’ve said before, any of the top eight might have reasonably expected to have gained automatic promotion in any “normal” season. Derby couldn’t afford to slip up because seven other excellent sides were clawing at the top two. I don’t remember a season like it, and I don’t remember enjoying a season so much. We’ve come through all of that with one of the two top places, a spectacular achievement.
A corollary to that is that any side that kept up with us, let alone outstripped us and however narrow and galling the margin, deserves respect. We’ve been bloody brilliant. Bournemouth, therefore, have been bloody brilliant also, so well done them. It is natural to be gutted by our inability to hold on for those last few minutes, to repel Sheffield’s one attempt on target of the entire game. But perverse, ludicrous to dwell upon it. We’re in the Premier League. We could be Derby, or Wolves (seventh). We could be Norwich, consigned to the play-offs and desperately trying to ignore the voice in the back of their heads that’s telling them that they KNOW they’re going to screw up against Ipswich. We could be Preston in the division below, also caught at the last with far graver consequences the useless bastards. We could be Sheffield Wednesday, supporting a side so fist-chewingly uninspiring that we’re forced to resort to lauding other club’s successes rater than supporting our own team (bet you did the same at Bournemouth, didn’t you? Classy. No, really).
We’re none of those things. We’re Watford. We’re owned, not by a cheap punk or an uninterested politician or an asset stripper but by a football family who know what they’re at. We have a fine head coach and an inspiring team that’s as close to the support and the community as it’s ever been. We’re heading to the top table with realistic aspirations of doing more than grabbing the money and running.
It’s going to be fun.
Enjoy the summer.