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End of Term Report Part 6 06/06/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

21- Ikechi Anya

It’s a perverse comparison, but there’s something of the Tommy Mooney about Ikechi Anya.  Not in physique, quite obviously, or in playing style…  but in the fact that it’s the how that matters more than the where.  Just as Mooney turned his hand to pretty much everything for periods of his time at Vicarage Road from the centre-forward he was “supposed” to be to a wide attacker, a wide midfielder, wing back and centre-back without ever changing his approach one iota, you know what you’re going to get from Ikechi even if we’re not really any closer to knowing how best to employ him.

Or rather, we’re not sure what his best position is, not really.  But we know what he brings to the team, and it’s pretty clear what his value is.  He brings energy, speed and a dogged relentlessness that must be a pain in the backside to play against whatever level you’re playing at.  Whether that’s on the wing, as a full-back, a wing-back or up front… he has limitations which mean he’s unlikely to be a nailed on starter in any position at this level, but as a squad player, a British name to come off the bench to change shape, provide some dynamism, chase things that need chasing or run off with things that need running off with he’s worth his weight in gold.  His weight isn’t very much, I would guess, but gold is gold.

Next Season:  As long as Ikechi’s happy with an odd-job man role then it’s hard to see us moving him on.  He started significantly more games in the first half of the season than the second… but with a new head coach in place, all bets are off in any case.

22- Almen Abdi

Given the way the season went there were only one or two likely contenders for Player of the Season, and Almen wasn’t one of them.  Despite this, there was something particularly heroic about the diligence with which he set about the task afforded him… a more disciplined, cautious role than that which he had enjoyed previously in his time at Vicarage Road.  The most visible contrast at the start of the season was of his attitude with that of Matěj Vydra who reportedly didn’t want to adapt and was shipped off pretty sharpish.  Abdi did try to fit in, he dug in and worked hard.  He felt wasted though.

Which is probably a little unreasonable on our part.  The Premier League, for a start, was never going to be as forgiving as the Championship.  You need, perhaps, a higher standard of lock-picker even if your game plan isn’t centred around containment.  But our distorted mental image of Almen’s contribution is probably unhelpful too.  The Almen Abdi who picks up a ball in the hole behind the strikers and slips a slide-rule pass, perfectly timed and weighted past a dumbstruck and hapless backline to an escaping striker is the Gianfranco Zola vintage.  Almen picked up an extraordinary 13 assists in 2012/13, often loading Vydra’s gun, but has only managed 7 across three seasons since.

Nonetheless, there was no disguising the joy when Almen was allowed to pick up the ball in a central position this term and advance on the opposition penalty area, in the stands and on his face.  This felt more natural, it felt right.  But either way, the way he stuck to the task this season is testimony to his attitude;  of his ability, there can be little doubt.

Next Season:  Like Anya, Almen is one of the supposedly mercenary foreign legion brought in by the Pozzos who will be entering their fifth season in Watford colours next year.  And hurrah for that.

23- Ben Watson

Ben Watson made his debut for Palace aged 18.  Coincidentally it was against us… in the very odd game during the week preceding our 2003 Cup semi-final against Southampton. A Trevor Francis call, one of the last of a management career that was to end ten days later.

Perhaps that’s why Watson appears to have been around – in football – forever. He was in our consciousness from the start… but despite this his career has been somewhat inconspicuous, Cup Final goals notwithstanding. He didn’t score many goals. He certainly wasn’t flamboyant, not a name linked with big clubs but… always there. What was Ben Watson for?.

Any doubts have been dismissed by Ben’s 18 months at Vicarage Road, which begun in a fashion that was both dramatic and suitably low key, coming on at half time to turn a 2-0 reverse to Blackpool into a 7-2 victory not by lashing in goals but by quietly ferrying things along, organising, protecting possession not by thundering into challenges (although he’s capable of that) but by simply making good decisions. We might have expected him to fade from contention as Premier League riches enhanced our purchasing power. He wasn’t in the starting eleven for the first five Premier League games. After being brought back in at St James Park in the wake of Valon Behrami’s suspension, he was barely out of it. Other clubs might watch on with casual bemusement… this club who are full of foreigners, who get all their players from Udinese, have Ben Watson in their midfield. Go figure.

Well, let them figure. Ben might be the new Lloyd. Discarded, maybe, possibly, every season. But still there. And suddenly still in the side, because nobody else will do what he does quite as efficiently and unfussily.

Next Season: Probably on the bench. For August. Until something needs sorting.

24- Odion Ighalo

The ultimate season of two halves for Odion, who dramatically exceeded all expectations up to Christmas but was nothing like as potent after it. Whilst he was scoring we had a pretty watertight formula… keep it solid, knowing that there are enough goals, enough tricks up front to grab something when the chance arises. When the goals stopped going in for Iggy – whether it was his head being turned, him being found out, him being watched, regression to the mean or a combination of all of these things, the whole team’s fortunes suffered accordingly. A solid team with a goal threat is a potent thing. A solid team without is not.

All of which leaves us looking at Iggy at little less favourably than he deserves. The first half of the season was remarkable, and hugely enjoyable to boot. These weren’t just tap-ins, or functional goals; the Iggy chop left any number of defenders on their backsides from the opening day at Goodison onwards. And whilst his form did dip, alarmingly, and whilst he could probably have done with some competition for his bulletproof place in the side, he was still delivering no worse than par versus expectations.

Next Season: The second half of the season probably limited the likelihood of a club offering the sort of money that you suspect would be needed. No coincidence that Iggy is now making noises about staying. No bad thing. He’ll be a much more valuable weapon as one of a number of options.



1. putajumperon - 06/06/2016

Anya “He started significantly more games in the first half of the season than the second” = when Anya plays we’re more likely to win… maybe.

2. Nick Corble - 06/06/2016

Iggy – a regression to the mean. Works on so many levels.

3. Stuart Campbell - 06/06/2016

Four in a row of very likeable players. Each, when playing well, puts a smile on your face. I would certainly want all of them to be with us in August, no matter how exotic the summer signings turn out to be.

NickB - 06/06/2016

Three very likeable plus Ighalo, in my book; faux humility and high opinion of self. Putting neck firmly on block, don’t think we’ll see anything like 2015 from him again.

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