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The Quarantine Selection – Strikers 18/06/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Strikers.  Here we go.  The top five have rotated an awful lot since making this list, and would probably be in a different order tomorrow.  Is it Saturday yet?  Quiz link at the end, as per.

10 – Gifton Noel-Williams

9 – Odion Ighalo

8 – Kevin Phillips

7 – Paul Wilkinson

6 – Paul Furlong

More than twenty years since that goal against Sunderland and that Paul Butler challenge it’s still heartbreaking.  Perhaps Gifton would never have evolved into more than the half-decent second tier target man that he returned as after his injuries… but that seems impossible. Having just turned 19 he was flying, was in the England U21 squad and would clearly have been the best player ever.  Ighalo… an awful lot of fun, if for a relatively short time.  Exploded into the side to first propel us into the side and then to keep us there, and then seemed to fizzle out just as quickly.  Superkev’s senior Watford career was even briefer, barely twelve months in effect before injury did for him, and much of that during a relegation season.  And yet… his movement, his awareness, was extraordinary.  Straight out of non-league, he already had gold dust.  Wilko…  after such a miserable goal-starved fun-starved relegation season in 1987/88 it was tremendous to have a proper goalscorer again, and one with a big personality and a big ‘tache to boot.  Less heralded than he should be.  And then Fuzzy…  merely a(nother) half-decent target man wherever else he played, at Vicarage Road he looked the complete striker.  Fast, strong, elegant and intelligent, kicked the ball bloody hard, often unplayable.  His departure to Chelsea was miserable and inevitable but his last-but-one goal to burgle three points from Oakwell in spring 1994 was a thing of beauty.

5- Danny Graham

The top five here are clear, but have rotated frequently as I’ve prepared this piece in terms of relative position.  Danny Graham was only at Vicarage Road for a couple of seasons in which we finished 16th and 14th in the Championship, but his impact was greater than this suggests.  The sides he was part of were supposed to struggle, should have struggled much more than they did…  Graham wasn’t the only reason for safe enough mid-table but he was a big part of it.  He scored a few goals, an extraordinary number in his second season, but more than that he made the whole team more effective.  His selflessness and endeavour created the gaping spaces that Tom Cleverley and Henri Lansbury galloped into with abandon in that first season.  His value to the team was a surprise, that these seasons were as fun as they were was a surprise.  As it turned out… he was one of these guys who’s too good for the Championship without being good enough for the Premier League perhaps.  Pretty good at most things without being exceptional at anything.  For the Hornets though, tremendous.

4- Tommy Mooney

Tommy Mooney there was plenty of ability, physical prowess too.  But it was his force of personality that made him exceptional… on several distinct occasions during his Watford career he went on a ludicrous burner, “Rampage” in footballer form.  Nothing could stand in his way.  This happened when he signed on loan from a chaotic Southend United late in the 1993/94 season.  He only scored twice in that run… once, bizarrely, against his parent club but his will to win invigorated the side as it was re-invented with the influx of Keith Millen, Colin Foster, Craig Ramage and Dennis Bailey, one of the most vital and successful recruitment sprees in recent history.  His bloody-mindedness was shunted around the team once he’d signed permanently… it was “how” with Tommy as much as “where”.  Left mid, left wing-back, even on the left of three at the back during the third tier title-winning season in 1997/98 (following another extraordinary rebuild of the side) in which his contribution was epitomised by a wonderfully stupid goal against Bristol Rovers.  The following season saw him drift from the team starting only twice in the four months spanning New Year, and then explode back into the side with a prolific run that motored us into and through the play-offs.  If his Premiership season was scuppered by injury it still featured a winner at Anfield and a fine return off the bench at home to Manchester United before a prolific final season after which, at the age of 30 and out of contract, he moved on.  He was a Roy of the Rovers character, a comic book hero, and a Watford legend.

3- Heidar Helguson

There’s little that endears a centre-forward more than a lunatic disregard for his own safety.  This was different to Mooney’s brand of bravado… he was tough, but a bully.  Helguson wasn’t a bully.  He just had no safety filter.  By the end of his career, helping Cardiff to promotion aged 35, he must have been held together by sellotape. But for the ‘orns… glorious.  He got better and better as he got older from excitable option to reliable goalscorer to leader and, in his final season before leaving for Fulham, clearly a level above the one he was playing at.  Then he came back on loan and didn’t disappoint… off the bench for his second debut 2-0 down to Leicester at half time.  Charged around like a lunatic, scored twice, carried off on 81 minutes.  Brilliant.

2- Troy Deeney

The only thing that separates him from top spot is that he’s still, sometimes, a bit of an idiot.  Yes, that makes him human.  No, losing your rag and getting sent off is neither helpful nor clever.

That aside.  Difficult to do justice to quite how well he’s done, quite what he’s achieved, quite how important he’s been to us.  The first point is a story increasingly widely told – by all sorts of surprising people – but it’s widely told because it is remarkable.  Perhaps the most prominent of all the points at which it could have gone wrong was when he was imprisoned in 2012.  The club could have gotten rid then, easily, and much as he’d already shown signs of what was to come his career would not have been heralded had it ended then.  It didn’t.  66 goals in the next (just under) three seasons in the Championship.  Promotion, captaining the side as it established itself in the Premier League, developing into what Jonathan Lieuw once described as “part battering ram, part talisman, like the carving on the bow of a warship”. Even that doesn’t do him justice.  He’s a leader on and off the pitch, and utterly inspiring.

1- Luther Blissett

Luther wasn’t the most talented player to have played for Watford.  But he was simultaneously the best striker we’ve ever had.  Fast.  Strong.  Direct.  Critically, with an utter indifference to missing chances.  He didn’t care.  “Luther Missitt” was a sobriquet at one point.  Despite which he scored 19 goals as we earned promotion, 27 in our first season in the top flight.  Twenty seven goals.  Ludicrous.

He was a cartoon character.  A legend, even at the time.  I knew the name Luther Blissett long before I started going to games.  And he was always smiling.  And he scored goals.  Lots of goals.  So many of the strikers in this list sparkled for a couple of years and then left, normally for somewhere “better”.  Luther left too.  And then came back.  Twice.  And ended up playing more games and scoring more goals for Watford than anyone else in a Vicarage Road career that spanned sixteen years.

 

Thanks for getting this far.  The final strikers quiz is here.  Every striker to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80.

Back to the present day then.  Yooooorns.

Strikers Quiz

Comments»

1. Steve Callaghan - 18/06/2020

Surprised that you don’t have Ross Jenkins in there. Was he just before you started going?

Matt Rowson - 18/06/2020

I saw Ross play, but I was 10 when he left in 1983 so whilst I appreciate his legend I only got to experience the tail end of his career.

2. Harefield Hornet - 18/06/2020

Interesting – if you asked me who the two best natural finishers I’ve ever seen at the Vic I wouldn’t hesitate to say Mo Johnston and Matej Vydra. Yet for good reasons they don’t even make the top ten. Your top 2 are absolutely spot on.

Matt Rowson - 18/06/2020

I lived abroad during Johnston’s spell, I only saw him at Wembley. Vydra was on my shortlist but sulks too much.

3. James - 18/06/2020

No Mick Quinn then?

Matt Rowson - 18/06/2020

No.

4. Back from Hammerau - 18/06/2020

Are you not going to do a quarantine selection of top 10 managers?

Matt Rowson - 18/06/2020

Yes, when I get a moment. But that won’t happen before Saturday… so I’ll fit in when I can.

5. Johnnp&Micah - 19/06/2020

Hard to overlook his off the field behaviour, but not sure that many strikers of the last 20 years have been more dangerous in full flight than Marlon King

Matt Rowson - 19/06/2020

Agree entirely. But this is “favourite” not “best”. The off field stuff matters (to me)


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