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End of Term Report 2021 – Part 6 03/06/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

23- Ismaïla Sarr

“So…  will he stay then?”.

“I hope so…  sounds like we want to keep him…”

“Yeah, but…  Watford….. or Liverpool….  Watford…  or Liverpool?”.  Paul is grinning, tipping is head from one side to the other as if he’s putting himself in Sarr’s position, weighing up the options.  He’s only half-joking.

The thing is, that’s where we started the season.  Of all the many decisions, some of them difficult, some of them easy, some of them brave….  this was maybe the most courageous.  Braver even than the decision to change head coach mid-season.  Because you can decide to hang on to your star asset, the guy whose dismantling of the Champions elect has just caught everyone’s attention.  You can twist, effectively, gamble everything on him making the difference between going up again and not.  You can refuse offers that don’t meet your valuation despite being in ostensibly a weak negotiating position.  And then you can find that your star man really doesn’t fancy the Championship.  Won’t put in a shift.  Doesn’t like the inevitable kicking he’s going to get.  Can’t help but feeling a bit peevish that he wasn’t allowed to go to Liverpool or United (or Palace.  snigger).

So yes, it took a while.  It’s not quite true that it took Xisco;  six assists and three goals came before the Spaniard took over. But it took a while, a little bit of adjustment.  And yes he did get kicked, and fitting the narrative it was Lloyd Kelly of Bournemouth who executed the most cynical, violent attempted hatchet-job of the season.  But before long he was battling through the physical stuff, and became the cheat code that we all knew he could be.  At his best he was simply far, far too good… the two devastating goals against Reading, most memorably, were the difference between a very tricky evening and a straightforward victory in a critical fixture.  A highlight of the season, Adam Masina’s free kick at Cardiff, was preceded by Sarr receiving the ball wide at the end of a gruelling game from which a point wouldn’t have been a disaster, and turning and committing two markers to draw that free kick.  Fast, direct, brave, relentless, Sarr’s ability and character completely vindicated that brave decision to stand firm on our valuation.

Next Season:  Watford… or Liverpool.  Watford… or Liverpool.  Having accommodated our desire to keep him in the Championship it’s far from a given that he’ll be rocking the boat in the Premier League.  He wouldn’t be the first outrageously talented winger to give us more than we had a right to expect before (eventually) moving to Anfield after all.  Though admittedly, if we get six seasons out of Isma we’ll be doing well…

24- Tom Dele-Bashiru

No, there’s not much to say here.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t say it.

Tom’s season lasted 64 minutes.  Slightly under half-an-hour off the bench in the win over Luton, slightly more than half-an-hour at Reading a week later in his first League start.  For me… that latter half hour was when the penny dropped.

He’d arrived with a minor fanfare…  a kid from City’s academy, City had wanted to keep!  And he came to us! His cup appearances in his first season were fine, decent, nothing more.  But here, against Reading, he looked… everything. Powerful, assertive, dynamic, tidy.  Wow.  What a weapon to unleash on an unsuspecting Championship.  And then… his knee twisted the wrong way. Everyone winced.  And that was that.

Next Season:  I have a proud track record of getting carried away with the opening salvos of fledgling football careers that don’t live up to their earliest promise.  Chris Pullan and Anthony McNamee to name but two.  Nonetheless.  If post-injury Tom, who came across as grounded, focused and likeable on his Hornet Hive outings, is anything like as good as that half hour at the Madejski suggested, we’ve got a player.

25- Stipe Perica

We never really sorted out the centre-forward position did we, promotion or otherwise. JP was great, but… is he really an out-and-out striker?  Troy… tremendous in so many ways but…. not mobile enough, restricted by injury or otherwise.  Andre… not clinical enough.  Isaac…  not reliable enough.

Stipe Perica was quite a lot of fun, and probably the option you’d have chosen to see more of.  In that sense he was unfortunate to pick up injuries when he did, in particular that arm injury following his one goal for the Hornets against Bournemouth.  What we did see was a suggestion that Stipe’s appearance was deceptive;  at 6’4″, he’s a poacher in a target man’s body.  Surprisingly quick, his tremendous goal against the Cherries and the harshly disallowed header against Brentford betrayed a goalscorer’s instinct…  but his use of his body was often clumsy and undisciplined, resulting in a red card at Newport and a number of near misses along the way.

Next Season:  So… we still don’t know what Stipe Perica is for, likeable and curious as he might be.  But having struggled for match time in the Championship – he managed scarcely 45 minutes’ worth over six sub appearances under Xisco – it seems unlikely that we’ll be finding out in the Premier League.

26- Daniel Bachmann

So this surprised me.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have.  After all, whilst the role of a deputy goalkeeper is an odd one, and there’s certainly a value in the willing deputy who prefers the lower-profile understudy-cum-training-buddy role to the pressures of first team football, it should have said something that we were hanging onto a goalkeeper who will turn 27 in the close season.  He’s not a veteran by goalkeeper’s standards, but long past “promising kid”.

Then there was the loan spell at Kilmarnock.  I don’t doubt that many talented players wilt in the spotlight, but goalkeepers more so.  Such a unique position, such a requirement to be strong-willed and self-confident.  Nowhere to hide.

And yet he’d thrived in Scotland by all accounts.  And we hadn’t shipped him on, mid-twenties or otherwise, despite his years loitering in the formidable shadows of Ben Foster and Heurelho Gomes.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised.

His penalty heroics against Oxford were a clarion call.  “Hello, what’s this?”.  And then when Ben Foster injured his finger and Bachmann was suddenly lined up for a long stretch between the sticks we inhaled and thought, “OK, let’s see what you’re made of”.

And we did see.  And what was perhaps most impressive was the degree of improvement… the early nervousness under aerial assault was a distant memory by the end of the season.  Bachmann kept thirteen clean-sheets in 25 League starts, and if that in part reflects the miserly opportunities that our opponents were offered then you can add supreme concentration, the concentration required of a goalkeeper in a successful side, to his list of attributes. Implausibly, the popular, experienced, charismatic Foster didn’t get his place back until the race was run.

Next Season:  Bachmann will surely start the campaign as first choice.


1. Duncan - 03/06/2021

“Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Ismaïla, No… We will not let him go!
Ismaïla, No, we will not let him go…
No, no, no, no, no, no, no”

(Scaramouche and fandango, etc.)

Matt Rowson - 03/06/2021

Very good

2. sptemple - 03/06/2021

Great to see Bachman get his debut for Austria last night and to see him perform well.

He has a couple of chinks which teams will try to take advantage of (distribution off his left foot isn’t great and not fully convincing under the high ball). However I think a 1-2 of Bachman and Foster is fine.

3. paullbaxter - 03/06/2021

The thing that has impressed me most about Bachmann is that he invariably holds shots rather than parries them. That approach seems to have gone out of fashion, I guess because if you make a mistake you get in trouble but Dan doesn’t make that mistake. The problems of the alternative approach were nicely illustrated by the Cardiff keeper.

4. Fez - 03/06/2021

I am very much looking forward to seeing a fit TDB back in a Watford shirt and can’t help but think that of all those on the injury list he’s the one we missed the most with something different to offer. 64 minutes of things happening, of promise, of potential, genuine, superstar quality.

Matt Rowson - 03/06/2021

No pressure, son…. 😉

Fez - 04/06/2021

LOLZ… no, none at all.

5. davidfishermusic - 04/06/2021

I did a double take on seeing that TDB only played 64 minutes. The impression he left on me made it feel like a lot more. Hope to see quite a lot of him this year.

6. Ben - 07/06/2021

I’m still stubbornly sticking to my first impression of Bachmann, which was not that great. I really think people have gushed about the number of clean sheets when the amount of shots on target he faced was pitiful. He was also arguably, if not wholly at fault, at least partly culpable for the goals in the only two defeats in the run-in. Having said that, he must be doing something right to be getting called up to his national side. Either that or Austria is having a keeper crisis.

Matt Rowson - 07/06/2021


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