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End of Term Report Part 5 12/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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21 – M’Baye Niang

The first thing to acknowledge is that this was ultimately a very successful loan. Niang impressed on his debut, that magnificent win at Arsenal, but was absolutely fundamental in two other big wins against Burnley and West Brom. Games that might very easily have been lost but for his vital, eye-catching contributions, a fine goal and a fine assist in each. So… he played a massive role in two crucial wins, and maybe that was the difference. Maybe, without those six points, we’d have been a more catchable target for Hull, say. We’ll never know.

The other regard in which the loan was successful is that both parties probably recognised that this wasn’t destined to be a long term partnership. Not that this was necessarily an option in January but… we could have bought him after all. Perhaps his attitude would have been… more convincing, more wholehearted had he made that commitment but as it was he never looked like he was sure he wanted to be here. The ability that he occasionally betrayed to shift up a gear and simply sizzle past a hapless marker, or whip in a vicious shot having cut inside only made his louche diffidence for the rest of the time more aggravating. Perhaps his heart was never in it, but media reports that he didn’t intend to stay came hot on the heels of those that suggested that we were only interested in a deal more favourable than the terms of the right-to-buy stipulated in the loan deal. Maybe we’re both better off out of it.

Next Season: Some reports link him to Premier League clubs, others suggest he doesn’t want to stay in England. At his best he is a top player, the sort of player who might play for Milan. But you’ve got to earn the right to do so, and its hard to see him recapturing those heights without a change in attitude.

22 – Daryl Janmaat

Daryl Janmaat was an exciting signing. Daryl Janmaat was a proper Premier League footballer. Yes, he’d been part of a relegated Newcastle side but no matter, he’d been a stand-out player. And he’d played in the World Cup and everything for, like, Holland. Big time.

He can’t defend for toffee, obviously. Had we stuck to the wing-back thing he’d have been absolutely fine; as a full-back, less convincing. And he seems incredibly brittle… not elastic popping hamstrings or anything concerning, just a creative ability to pick up different injuries… falling on his shoulder against Manchester United, colliding with Mapps in training.

But going forward he’s great. Bullish, direct, puts a decent ball in. Versatile enough to play right, left, even in a midfield role. I think he was always winning, and pretty comfortably, in that everyone saw the problems but wanted him in the side anyway. It was that goal at Stamford Bridge that sealed the deal for me. Brave, bloody minded and theatrical, a goal scored by force of personality. He’ll do.

Next Season: Would be good to see him injury free and a fixture in the side. But maybe not at full-back.

23 – Ben Watson

It started as it was to continue for Ben Watson. Ten minutes off the bench at Saints on the opening day curtailed by a last minute red card. Then… three more sub appearances in the League (one of which the hammering at Anfield), plus the cup humiliations against Gillingham and Millwall. Add a long spell injured – and being injured and having to work your way back to (merely) the sidelines would test anyone’s mettle – and you have a season to forget for Ben Watson.

Thing is, you’d still have him down as one of the strongest personalities in the squad. Solid, focused, professional. A player that makes other players play better, who keeps everything going. A stalwart under Quique Flores, will he get the chance to show us whether he’s still got it?

Next Season: You’ve got to fancy not. Home-grown or not, Ben is going to need to fight his way back in the context of a squad that’s constantly churning. A big ask.

24 – Odion Ighalo

Another one who seems so long ago simply because he spent so long leaving, on and off the pitch. The contrast is still extraordinary, between the Ighalo who looked so vivid and comfortable in his skin in the first half of last season and the tentative figure who spent far longer in the Watford side than his form might have warranted.

It’s not difficult to understand why we persevered. That ridiculous Ian Wright goal against Liverpool, the 15 goals in a first Premier League season and 20 in the blink of an eye the season before, the big offers from China unpursued last summer and the most mobile weapon in our attacking armoury was someone to be patient with as we waited for the goals to return.

It was a forlorn hope. His form this season seemed to desert him completely, his one goal in fourteen League starts a deflected effort at West Ham. The twisty turny run that preceded it suggested that this would kick things off for Iggy but that hope dissipated and accepting a £20m offer from China was a no-brainer in January.

Next Season: Iggy’s farewell was heartbreaking, his contribution massive; now at Changchun Yatai, struggling in the Chinese Super League, that goal and that song seem an awfully long way away.

End of Term Report Part 4 07/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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17 – Adlène Guedioura

It’s easily forgotten but Adlène was heavily involved in the first half of the campaign, in every matchday squad until the turn of the year before moving to Boro at the end of January. Easily forgotten partly because of the speed with which the narrative moves on and the recent past is consigned to history; also because throughout his involvement this season he felt like a stopgap, filling in until someone else came along (or regained fitness). He was already on his way out, in our heads.

Guedioura’s career is revealing in this regard. A first choice at Forest and at Vicarage Road during his Championship loan spells, he was only ever a bit part at Wolves, Palace or at Watford in the Premier League. The reality is that, as discussed before, his propensity to give the ball away is too expensive at the top level; in the Championship possession is traded more freely, Guedioura’s verve and elegance a rarer commodity. Stonking goals in Cup quarter-finals notwithstanding his career at Watford since signing permanently had never been convincing… passable as cover, a good agitator off the bench, but never looking like nailing down a starting berth by right.

Next Season: Due to a combination of inherent conservatism and, perhaps, trusting established defensive midfield options more Boro have restricted Adlène’s subsequent career to five cameos from the bench since January. Next season, as above, you’d fancy he could do rather better.

18 – Juan Camilo Zúñiga

There’s not much to say here, really. Zúñiga arrived on loan, ostensibly as a trusted lieutenant of Walter Mazzarri; experienced and versatile, clearly an asset. And I guess he was… certainly there’s a lot to be said for a player who can play in a wide range of positions reasonably diligently.

However I’m probably not the only one a little bit underwhelmed. It was quickly apparent that Zúñiga was going to struggle with 90 minutes of Premier League football, something he managed only twice during his year at the club. His busy scurrying might have been more valuable if sustainable for the duration of a match, the wing back role that he seemed to have been signed to compete for became a non starter; instead the Colombian became a regular substitute – 16 of his 22 appearances came from the bench – and was used infrequently after the turn of the year as injuries further limited his involvement.

There was that goal against United of course, probably the finest few seconds of the season, as part of a brief cameo that also saw him win the penalty that sealed the victory. Those minutes are what his Watford career will be remembered for.

Next Season: An option to buy was included in the loan; you’d be surprised if this was taken up.

19 – Jerome Sinclair

When I were a lad, and so forth. I don’t doubt that it’s always been the case that things was better in the old days when money wasn’t the heart of everything. Still. In 1999, less than 20 years ago, we broke our transfer record by spending £950,000 on Nordin Wooter. Now we’re punting £4 million on a maybe, a kid who might develop and might not.

None of which is Jerome Sinclair’s fault, but as yet he’s still a maybe. There’s clearly something there… quick feet, a turn of pace. But despite a lack of such attributes in the senior squad he never threatened to make an impact; perhaps more alarmingly he didn’t make any waves in the Championship either, albeit during a bizarre period at Birmingham City which probably wouldn’t have been chosen again in retrospect. He looks lightweight, and it would be a surprise if he featured significantly in this campaign.

Next Season: Another loan. And a red meat and Guinness diet.

20 – Mauro Zárate

Here’s another nagging voice. Yes, Mauro did well before his injury. Yes, he was the dominant figure on the pitch during that West Ham game and yes, his season-ending injury was a pain in the arse disaster in a season of pain in the arse disasters.

But the fact remains that he only started three games, none of which he finished. They were decent enough – a win, a defeat and a win that became a draw – but they’re not a basis on which to judge a fledgling Watford career. Zárate looks useful enough, he’s got pedigree but we honestly don’t know yet. He’s an older player in a squad of older players, it will be interesting to see what role he plays in a fully fit squad.

Next Season: We get a longer chance to see what we got.

End of Term Report Part 3 05/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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10 – Isaac Success

You don’t have to like someone to learn from them. Dad told me that after the thirty seventh GP I’d seen during my highly mobile childhood poured scorn on how I managed my diabetes, just like the others had done before changing everything. Dr King was a patronising scumbag, but I can’t remember what his advice was so I obviously didn’t take Dad’s wisdom to heart.

There’s a little voice reciting the line at the back of my mind now though. No, I didn’t like Mazzarri (we’ll get to him…), but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. Not about everything, not necessarily. And whilst it’s convenient to pick and choose the bits to trust, the criticisms levelled by Mazzarri at the unprofessionalism of Success’ approach aren’t something we’re in much of a position to judge.

He looks tremendously exciting, of course. Raw, sure. But powerful and quick and elegant and clever and unpredictable. In as much as I understand – or tolerate – minority sports I might compare him to Jonah Lomu. And yet… the player who cost either our highest or second highest transfer outlay, depending on which source you trust, has only been awarded two starts.  So what to believe?  Is he the precocious, extraordinary talent who executed any number of sparkling cameos, particularly earlier in the season, and so nearly scored Goal of the Ever late at Arsenal?  Or is he the slacker that Mazzarri implies, an unfavourable possibility fed fuel by rumours (stirred by an agent?) of moves to Palace or West Ham?  And if he’s both, which side wins?

Next Season:  We find out.

11 – Valon Behrami

It’s in the eyes.  That’s how you know.  Before he joined Watford, before we were able to judge for ourselves, I always felt that there was something not quite right.  Misinterpreting what lingered at the back of his leer as cockiness, modern-day-footballer-mercenary arrogance, I bemoaned his recruitment two years ago.  I was wrong.

I love the way that his legend is fuelled by titbits from the club, I almost don’t care whether it’s deliberate fabrication by the media team.  Robert Pereyra : “I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of Valon Behrami“; the excellent UCL diary series relating stories of youngsters being booted around. He’s simultaneously the archetypal modern footballer, playing in Italy, Germany, England, three World Cups… and a throwback.

One of rather few fond memories of Watford around 1990 came in a game against Port Vale when a forgotten visiting midfielder was putting the boot in with abandon, unhindered by the officials.  As the crowd bawled its frustration in the way that supporters of a poor team tend to do, Steve Perryman leaned across the bench and Gary Williams stood up and unzipped his tracksuit top like a superhero.  The rest was inevitable.  I’d like to think that Valon will always have that role, if he wants it.

Next Season:  But the suggestion has been that “only” 32 or otherwise, Valon’s legs aren’t going to permit him to sustain a Prem career for much longer.  He’s been sellotaped together for much of this season, and links to Sion aren’t the stuff that idle speculation is made of.  Hope I’m wrong, natch.

15 – Craig Cathcart

Ah.  Yes.  Craig Cathcart.

Easily overlooked in a season defined by everyone getting injured that Craig was injured more than most.  Three months out at the end of 2016, another six weeks at the tail of the campaign and all of this after a summer which had seen Craig’s stock rise even higher as Northern Ireland’s defence in particular did a sterling job in the Euros.

We shouldn’t forget about Craig, or write him off.  He’s a very fine defender and if it’s unreasonable to draw a cause-and-effect link between Craig’s availability and our record it nonetheless reflects well upon him that we won more games with him in the side (7) than we lost (6), those six including Spurs (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United.  Elegant, unfussy, not particularly flattered by being asked to play right back but a better stand-in than some, he would have been so helpful at many stages during his absence this season.

Next Season:  Hopefully a season free of injury to remind us what a gem we have.

16 – Abdoulaye Doucouré

And here’s an argument in Isaac Success’ favour.  Here’s the benefit of the doubt.

Having been signed in January 2016, a signing deemed such a catch that it was worth buying him even if we couldn’t use him and then loaning him out for half a season, an impressive half season by all accounts, Abdoulaye Doucouré was famously on his way out of the club in August before having kicked a ball for us in competitive action.  Except the paperwork didn’t quite get through.

Misjudging a player isn’t a criminal offence.  Even one deemed such an asset by others.  Maybe he wasn’t all he’d appeared.  Maybe he wasn’t going to “work” the way Mazzarri wanted to play.  Maybe he was a bad egg, maybe England wasn’t for him.  But Mazzarri was wrong.  Forced, ultimately, by the rampaging injury list to bring Doucouré in for more than just a second-string cup run out for the New Year’s Day hammering by Tottenham Doucouré took his chance and quite literally ran with it.

From that point on he never looked like dropping out again.  Strong, calm, elegant, his impact was such that he was afforded serious discussion when the Player of the Season vote came up despite not playing in the first half of the campaign (as an aside, it would have been interesting to see quite how close he came; the failure to publish the traditional breakdown disappointing).  Nor was there any evidence of him being restless – an interview published on the Official Site showed him to be settled and keen to stay, the family man who wouldn’t join the Hornets with his wife pregnant in the summer of 2015 hardly comes across as a disruptive influence.

Next Season:  One for Marco Silva to build his team around.

End of Term Report Part 2 01/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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6 – Adrian Mariappa

What an peculiarly orthdodox career Adrian Mariappa has had.  Growing from captaining our youth team to the point where he was manifestly too good for the Championship, he has since been in the grey area of not quite being good enough to establish himself in a Premier League side. A first choice understudy, versatile enough to do a number of jobs pretty well, professional enough to apply himself to that role.  A jobbing Premier League footballer, if there is such a thing.

Confirmation that we’d re-signed Mapps was one of my favourite moments of last summer.  The game against West Brom was one of the highlights once the football got under way.  An hour in, Miguel gets a red card and Mapps is off the bench after two thirds of a season of being largely neglected on the sidelines, last cab off the rank.  And he was completely brilliant.  In any season, the guy kept in cold storage and wheeled on when all other options had been expended and down to ten men playing a blinder would have been cause for celebration.  In the context of this man being a Watford youth product and ex-Captain returned to the squad… his performance for that last half hour was the cherry on the evening’s cake.

Next Season:  Mapps’ half a dozen starts thereafter weren’t flawless, but he demonstrated that he’s a very capable defender, a great option to have.  He’s also home-grown, one of us.  As long as he’s happy with his lot, what’s not to like?  A bona fide Watford hero.

7 – Nordin Amrabat

A funny thing happened at Leicester.  In the context of a defeat that was simultaneously not reflective of our contribution to the game and yet utterly deserved, the frustrations of our impotence and trajectory boiled over in the stands.  We were then treated to a throwback that would have bestowed a warm nostalgic glow on a par with reviving a long-forgotten chant or seeing a former hero trot off the bench for the other lot except that we were too grumpy, and actually watching the crowd isolate a boo-boy was never much fun in the first place, a bit like that “we’re the riiiight side” chant but more so.  So after a few years with nobody particularly in the chair Amrabat briefly joined the likes of Dominic Foley, Bruce Dyer and Devon White on that uncelebrated list.

The boo-boy thing has always irked me, but Amrabat’s isolation seemed particularly harsh.  It’s not that he’s not inadequate…  last summer he was almost out of the door and now, eighteen months into his time at the club, we’re still not really sure what he’s for.  And yet… he’s never hidden.  He’s put a shift in at wing-back, as a winger, as a midfielder, as a wide attacker.  No, there’s nothing like enough end product and yes he has become incredibly frustrating as his dropping confidence has reduced the likelihood of him taking someone on from small to very small.  But he’s never hidden.  He’s always been there.  And at times of the season he was our most aggressive attacking threat.

Next Season:  Would be a huge surprise if Nordin used up one of our non-homegrown slots next season, as it was this.  He should leave with our best wishes.

8 – Tom Cleverley

In what was an unusually productive and successful January transfer window, one piece of activity stood out.  Such a sensible signing on so many levels…  experienced, good enough to have won England caps – and, therefore, contributing to the homegrown quota – and a popular former Player of the Season whilst on loan as a bonus.  Yet another indication that the club management know what the hell they’re doing… harder to judge based on less familiar names from abroad but few, if any, Watford fans would have doubted the value of this loan-with-an-option. A no-brainer.

We’ve all followed Tom’s career since his magnificent loan season under Malky Mackay.  The surprise, perhaps, is that his success has been so relatively limited.  That, and that the goalscoring, goal creating attacking midfielder that we witnessed has never really spread his wings in the Premier League, not even during a loan at Villa under Tim Sherwood who cited that loan as evidence of the sort of player Cleverley could be.  Eleven of his 27 senior goals to date came during that loan.

His loan this season started incredibly strongly.  He was busy and energetic, attracting and retaining possession in dangerous areas around the penalty box and providing dynamism to our attacking play.  In his second debut against Boro he got a touch to a long throw and was incredibly unlucky to hit the post… this was the player we remembered, bold and assertive.  Significant, then, that since an early flurry Tom’s form has been rather less consistent…  he’s still busy, still energetic, but his willingness to attack the box has receded.  He’s not looking for the ball in such positions any more.  It’s odd…  it’s as if the biggest obstacle to Tom’s success is in his head.

Next Season:  A lynchpin of the side, without doubt.  Would be wonderful to see that attacking verve back in his game too.

9 – Troy Deeney

We’ll get to Walter later on, but it’s unavoidable at this stage to observe that if you want to make yourself terminally unpopular with the Watford support, pissing off and ultimately alienating Troy is a good place to start. Forget the stuff about no player’s bigger than the club and so forth, that’s all true, obviously, but not relevant here. You have a captain who should be the easiest person in the world to keep on side. Someone who is so utterly focused and motivated by the success of the team, so honest and yet considered in every public utterance. Someone who doesn’t like being rested – who would – but who would surely have responded positively if, for example, being dropped from the starting eleven at Spurs, just after a monstrous performance against West Brom and on a run of six goals in eight starts had been accompanied by a proper conversation. You can only imagine that it wasn’t.

Troy has had more imposing seasons on the pitch, rattled in more goals, but can cite plenty of mitigation. The almost total lack of creativity that stymied the side for much of the season can’t have been any fun to play under. The frequency with which a side bereft of confidence or strategy resorted to hitting long balls towards their isolated totem. That he still got into double figures for the sixth season running, the first Watford player ever to achieve that in League games, that he was still our most reliable head on the ball defending set pieces, that he was still every inch the leader off the pitch, candid enough to say what we’re thinking, brave enough to front up to the crowd at Hull, smart enough to steer Dion Pereira towards his ovation at Leicester. We’re very very lucky. In the absence of an outstanding candidate and without detracting from Seb or Heurelho he was my vote for POTS. There are clubs sniffing around again, as every summer, and a few Watford fans have been heard to speculate that maybe it’s right, maybe this should be the time. They’re wrong.

Next Season: Watford’s totem gives us so much. He will move on at some point, he can’t continue indefinitely, but the confidence with which he’s been awarded long contracts as the club’s highest earner every summer are testimony to his importance.

End of Term Report Part 1 29/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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You know the form by now.  A trot through the season’s roster, most of it.  Some will still be here next season, some will go over the summer, some will leave at the end of August…  those that did so this year tend to not feature in this write-up, much as the likes of Almen Abdi, Ikechi Anya and Matěj Vydra all merited more than just slipping out of the door.  They all feel like characters from a story half-remembered, and we watch on in puzzlement at their different flavours of underachievement in the championship.  Anyway…

1 – Heurelho Gomes

It’s been mentioned at this stage before, but in recruiting Gomes from a long way down Spurs’ pecking order three years ago we were working from a tried and tested template.  Manuel Almunia had been similarly discarded at Arsenal, similarly unreasonably tainted in the eyes of the watching public.  As with Almunia, Gomes reminded everyone straight away why he’d been such a prized asset in the first place, that he’s a very fine goalkeeper.

But Gomes has moved beyond that now.  Beyond simply a goalkeeper who proved to be a better player, with more left to offer than many had lazily concluded.  He’s a leader, and suddenly in our hugely transient squad he’s a stalwart, three years in.  You wouldn’t have it any other way.  Throughout all of our ups and downs in form this season Gomes has been a constant; he started every League fixture and at the times when things were getting a bit edgy, when the side was at its less convincing the sight of Heurelho between the sticks exhorting teammates and fans to further efforts was hugely reassuring.  Like Tommy Smith in the Vialli season, a reason to believe that Everything Will Be Alright In The End.  At the end of games, whatever the result, Troy and Heurelho saluting the crowd; in interviews manifestly evident that he gets it, fully professional and a thoroughly decent bloke.

Next Season:   This season has seen Heurelho make more errors than in his previous seasons, which merely means more than one; he was nonetheless indisputably one of the stars of the campaign. With Big Pants seemingly out of favour it seems reasonable to expect stiffer competition to be brought in over the summer, but Gomes remains our number 1. Hurrah.

3 – Miguel Britos

At the end of last summer I took my daughters to the club’s Open Day at the Fullerians rugby club. Long queues had formed by the meet-the-player tents in the sunshine by the time we arrived, queues formed of children and parents more experienced in these events than I was. Foolishly I decided that our time queuing was better spent collecting and printing new home shirts; by the time we decided to join the back of the meet-the-players queues, we’d missed the boat and harried looking club staff were fending people off.

Feeling guilty at making such a gross strategic error and wondering whether an ice cream would quite cut it as compensation I eventually took the girls back towards the big tent to pick up our name-printed shirts and ran into Miguel Britos. The coach was leaving, and Miguel would have been forgiven for apologising politely after an afternoon of relentless autographs and selfies but he was as accommodating as could be. He didn’t know that the girls had been let down by their inept father, that he was the only player they were destined to meet; he gave us his time anyway. The photo is amazing… Daughter 1 retains a semblance of almost-a-teenager cool, betrayed by a giveaway smile. Daughter 2 makes no such pretence, her eyes are about to pop out.

Being a good bloke doesn’t qualify you for playing centre back in the Premier League, but it helps in my book. Or at least, it helps to want to root for someone. Miguel has looked nervy at times this season but there’s context… regularly switching from a three to a four, injuries meaning that the make up of the central defence changed from game to game. Miguel was generally picked when available though, only once slipping to the bench when available. Still a solid option.

Next Season: Left-sided defenders aren’t easy to come by. Might be high on some fans’ hit-lists, but I can see him still being around in August. Good job too.

4 – Younès Kaboul

The signing of Younès Kaboul was a fine thing for a number of reasons. Firstly, signing Younès Kaboul announces you as an established mid-table Premier League club as well as anything I can think of. We Have Arrived, and are here to stay. Second, the reaction on Wearside – nothing against Sunderland, but the ex-club’s messageboards are a pretty reliable indicator. (It can work the other way too… my excitement at Lewis McGugan’s signing lasted as long as it took for me to glance at the Forest reaction. I was expecting hysteria. There wasn’t any).

Thirdly, because big, bootery defenders, particularly big bootery defenders who look pretty scarey, are something that you can’t really have enough of. I’m all for them.

And if Kaboul hasn’t been an unqualified success – whilst he’s terrifying in a back four he’s looked vulnerable as part of a three, particularly in a wide position – he’s still a Good Thing. He’s got a big personality, more than a decade’s worth of Premier League experience and he kicks the ball really hard. What’s not to like?

Next Season: As above, quite how vital Kaboul will be rather depends on how Marco Silva plans to line us up – significantly, his Hull teams appear to have switched between defensive formations too. Difficult to imagine a world in which Kaboul won’t be at the very least a Useful Thing to Have, tho.

5 – Sebastian Prödl

Here’s a strange thing: Seb Prödl isn’t thirty yet.

Pausing only briefly to acknowledge that “getting on” for a footballer really isn’t very old at all and that I should really get on with doing “things that I’ll do when I grow up” rather than vaguely thinking about them… it remains a fact that Prödl isn’t very old, even by a footballer’s standards.

Why, then, does he seem older? Maybe in part because he came to us an established international defender; he’d captained Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and was a senior player in the Austrian side. He plays like a veteran, with the absolute assurance of someone who’s been there, done that, dealt with anything you can throw at him before.

But there’s something else, I think. Because the fact is that whilst Seb narrowly, deservedly walked off with the Player of the Season award (and named after GT or not I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable at the unexplained sidelining of the Watford Observer) he was actually looking like winning the award by a country mile halfway through the season, based on that monstrous performance against Manchester United and others like it.

Then we switched to a back four, which rather exposed the bits that Seb isn’t quite so good at. He’s not the quickest on the turn… in the middle of the three he’s in his element, furiously and defiantly in control with quicker legs doing the running either side of him. In a four… well, he’s almost the ying to Kaboul’s yang. He moves like an older man.

A very fine season nonetheless, and another player you instinctively warm to.

Next Season: He did seem to be waving goodbye when he went off at Stamford Bridge didn’t he? You hope not… and, you know, three years on his contract and everything. But still…

Helping Hands 2016/2017 25/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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I don’t care, I enjoy it.

(insert the standard bit about what qualifies as an assist on this here site)… 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.

Amongst the stories the table tells is that of the contrast between this season and last. Last year Troy and Iggy dominated the charts, being involved in the vast majority of our goals one way or another. This year 18 players provided assists as compared to 13 last season, but whilst Troy tops the table for the third season running his five assists is an unprecedented low to top the table. To set this in context, Mark Yeates got eleven in 2011/12, admittedly from a larger number of games.

This rather sets into context that Nordin Amrabat comes in second with four, albeit four rather challenges the “no end product” theory. Miguel Britos’ three puts him perversely high in the table but three for a centre-back is decent in any season; it rather puts our central midfield to shame, whilst highlighting the lack of creativity that has been a central theme to the season. Abdoulaye Doucouré is yet to contribute in this regard (but he’s ace, so we let him off), ditto Valon Behrami in both respects, whilst Tom Cleverley’s set pieces yield a disappointing one and Etienne Capoue’s tally is three in two seasons, all away from home.

Meanwhile the absent Roberto Pereyra’s rate was a pretty healthy one every four games, which would have put him clearly top if sustained over a season. M’baye Niang’s rate wasn’t much worse, albeit there was less to enjoy in between.

Elsewhere, Juan Camillo Zuñiga’s spasmodic season yielded one goal and one assist, each occurring within twelve minutes in mid-September, whilst the Gillingham League Cup game and the number of kids rotated in later in the season contributed to an extraordinary eleven players turning out for the Hornets but starting no more than once across the campaign.

Will return soon with the End of Term Report.  Enjoy the summer…

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Deeney 5 33+7 10 Sot (A), Gil (H-LC), Lei (H), WBA (A), WBA (H)
Amrabat 4 25+4 0 Sot (A), Bou (H), Liv (A), Eve (A)
Holebas 4 33+0 2 Bou (H), Eve (H), Eve (H), Bur (H)
Pereyra 3 12+1 2 WHU (A), MaU (H), Lei (H)
Niang 3 15+1 2 Bur (H), WBA (H), Che (A)
Britos 3 29+0 1 BuA (H-FAC), Bou (A), Sot (H)
Janmaat 2 18+10 2 MaU (H), Hul (H)
Prödl 2 32+2 1 Lei (H), CrP (H)
Capoue 2 38+1 7 WHU (A), Ars (A)
Success 1 2+17 1 Sot (H)
Zárate 1 3 0 WHU (H)
Mason 1 3+1 0 BuA (H-FAC)
Zuñiga 1 6+16 1 MaU (H)
Guedioura 1 11+3 0 Che (H)
Okaka 1 11+9 4 Sot (H)
Cathcart 1 14+2 0  Sun (H)
Ighalo 1 15+5 2 WHU (A)
Cleverley 1 16+1 0 Bou (A)
Eleftheriou 0 0+1 0
Folivi 0 0+1 0
Kenedy 0 0+1 0
Stewart 0 0+1 0
Pereira 0 0+2 0
Hoban 0 1 0
Nyom 0 1 0
Paredes 0 1 0
Anya 0 1+1 0
Dja Djédjé 0 1+1 0
Vydra 0 1+1 0
Watson 0 2+4 0
Pantilimon 0 3+2 0
Sinclair 0 3+4 1
Mariappa 0 7+1 0
Kabasele 0 9+9 2
Doucouré 0 17+6 1
Kaboul 0 24 2
Behrami 0 26+1 0
Gomes 0 38+1 0

Check out the 2015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

 

The List 2017. 22/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

Let it not be said that we’re glad that’s all over…  but here’s your summer list of players linked with the Hornets since the close of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

January 2017 List / Summer 2016 List / January 2016 List / Summer 2015 List

Running Total: 115

IN

Elias Kachunga (Huddersfield)
Alban Lafont (Toulouse)
Tom Cleverley (Everton)*                                                               – SIGNED
M’Baye Niang (Milan)*
Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea)*                                                     – SIGNED
Allan (Napoli)
Mario Lemina (Juventus)*                                           – joined Southampton
Stephan el Shaarawy (Roma)
Kiko Femenía (Alaves)                                                                     – SIGNED
Jorge Segura (Envigado)                                                                 – SIGNED
Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)
Fred Onyedinma (Millwall)
Hamza Mendyl (Lille)
Patrik Schick (Sampdoria)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)*
Tom King (Millwall)
Khouma Babacar (Fiorentina)*
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)*
Marten de Roon (Middlesbrough)                                         – joined Atalanta
Vito Mannone (Sunderland)                                                    – joined Reading
Sofyan Amrabat (Utrecht)                                                   – joined Feyenoord
Steve Cook (Bournemouth)
Eldin Jakupović (Hull City)                                                   – joined Leicester
Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo)
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ67)
Mattia Destro (Bologna)*
Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)
David Stockdale (Brighton)                                       – joined Birmingham City
Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht)*                      – joined Tianjin Teda on loan
Lee Grant (Stoke City)
Mirko Valdifiori (Torino)
Orestis Karnezis (Udinese)
Jeison Murillo (Inter)                                             – joined Valencia on loan
Marcel Tisserand (Ingolstadt)*
James McCarthy (Everton)
Alexandre Mendy (Guingamp)                                             – joined Bordeaux
Nicolas Pépé (Angers)*                                                                   – joined Lille
Omar Colley (Genk)
Florin Andone (Deportivo La Coruña)
Kamil Grosicki (Hull City)
Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiacos)*
Martin Cáceres (Unattached)                                                     -joined Lazio
Marcel Heller (Darmstadt)                                                   – joined Augsburg
Mamadou Coulibaly (Pescara)                                             – joined Udinese
Ferland Mendy (Le Havre)                                                         – joined Lyon
Ismaïla Sarr (Metz)                                                                    -joined Rennes
Sam Johnstone (Manchester United)                    – joined Aston Villa on loan
Rekeil Pyke (Huddersfield Town)                            – joined Port Vale on loan
Steve Mounié (Montpellier)                                           – joined Huddersfield
Davide Santon (Inter)*
Duván Zapata (Napoli)
Dennis Aogo (Schalke)                                                           – joined Stuttgart
Rajiv van la Parra (Huddersfield)
Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht)
Giovanni Simeone (Genoa)                                                – joined Fiorentina
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
Fernando Forestieri (Sheff Wednesday)
Yannis Sourdis (Panathinaikos)
Tom Huddlestone (Hull City)                                      – joined Derby County
Will Hughes (Derby County)                                                             – SIGNED
Norberto Neto (Juventus)                                                    – joined Valencia
Saphir Taïder (Bologna)*
Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon)
Josh Tymon (Hull City)                                                      – joined Stoke City
Juan Camilo Zuñiga (Napoli)*
Lazar Marković (Liverpool)*
Kenedy (Chelsea)*
Joshua Brenet (PSV)
Sebá (Olympiacos)
Sébastien Corchia (Lille)                                                          – joined Sevilla
George Friend (Middlesbrough)
Andy Robertson (Hull City)                                                 -joined Liverpool
Daniel Bachmann (Unattached)                                                         – SIGNED
Rodrigo Aguirre (Udinese)
Hernán Pérez (Espanyol)
Joe Hart (Manchester City)                                – joined West Ham on loan
Vicente Iborra (Sevilla)*                                                      – joined Leicester
Lorenzo Crisetig (Bologna)
Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United)                         – joined Middlesbrough
Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Ryan Fredericks (Fulham)
Ivan Strinić (Napoli)
Grégoire Defrel (Sassuolo)                                             – joined Roma on loan
Randell Williams (Unattached)                                                           – SIGNED
Britt Assombalonga (Nottingham Forest)                 – joined Middlesbrough
Christian Cueva (São Paulo)
Andre Carrillo (Benfica)
Jordan Ferri (Lyon)
Lucas Tousart (Lyon)
Max Gradel (Bournemouth)*                                     – joined Toulouse on loan
Maxwell Cornet (Lyon)
Rachid Ghezzal (Lyon)                                                          – joined Monaco
Gabriel Kunda Jr (Unattached)
Aymen Abennour (Valencia)
Adam Phillips (Unattached)                                            – joined Norwich City
Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal)*
Karl Toko Ekambi (Angers)
Aaron Lennon (Everton)
Serdar Tasci (Spartak Moscow)
Richarlison (Fluminense)                                                                    – SIGNED
Bacary Sagna (Unattached)
Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United)                  – joined Palace on loan
Andre Gray (Burnley)                                                                           – SIGNED
Alberto Moreno (Liverpool)
Emre Mor (Borussia Dortmund)
Christopher Rocchia (Marseille)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)*
Miquel Nelom (Feyenoord)
Olarenwaju Kayode (Austria Vienna)                            – joined Manchester City
Héctor Herrera (Porto)
Lovre Kalinić (Gent)
Islam Slimani (Leicester City)
Jeroen Zoet (PSV)
Guido Carrillo (Monaco)

OUT
Valon Behrami (Sion, Udinese*)                                          – joined Udinese
Troy Deeney (West Brom, Everton*, West Ham*, Newcastle, Leicester*)
Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord)*                                             – joined Feyenoord
Christian Kabasele (Anderlecht)*
Stefano Okaka (Udinese. Olympiacos, Shanghai Shenhua)
Isaac Success (West Ham, Crystal Palace)
Sven Kums (Anderlecht)                                                      – joined Anderlecht
Dion Pereira (Newcastle, West Ham, Brighton, Reading)
Costel Pantilimon (Anderlecht)
Tommie Hoban (QPR, Bolton, Sheffield United)
Obbi Oularé (Beşiktaş*, Anderlecht, Royal Antwerp)
.                                                                               – joined Antwerp on loan
Nordin Amrabat (Galatasaray, Deportivo La Coruña)
José Holebas (Fenerbahçe)*
Adalberto Peñaranda (Deportivo La Coruña, Roma, Leganes)
Ben Watson (Sunderland, Cardiff City, Nottingham Forest)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Toulouse)
Miguel Britos (Sparta Prague)
Sebastian Prödl (Fenerbahçe)
Giedrius Arlauskis (CFR Cluj)                                             – joined CFR Cluj
Étienne Capoue (Milan)
Mauro Zárate (Vélez Sarsfield)

Leicester City 3 Watford 0 (06/05/2017) 07/05/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
27 comments

1- There are days when it’s just a bad idea all round.  The great empty swathes of seats in the away end for what should be a popular trip – local-ish, easy to get to, against the League Champions to boot – suggested that plenty had had the same thought.  Dad nearly didn’t make it, Daughter 1 pondered whether she should forego the afternoon in favour of preparation for her forthcoming SATs.  Meanwhile the pre-match pub turned out to be closed;  we opted for an alternative next to the station, but beat a disorientated path from the pub in entirely the wrong direction until we sorted ourselves out.  Sometimes the world is trying to tell you something.

2- Whilst appreciating that survival in itself is an achievement, and the injuries, and the fact that winning away in the Premier League is a very difficult thing to do I can’t tell you how bored I am of this.  Of games like this.  Our season has been an extension and elaboration of Niang’s loan spell…  occasional sparks of brilliance with quite a lot of drab, shapeless nothingness in between.  You have to imagine that the rest of the Premier League wouldn’t really have missed us had we gone down, for all that everyone likes a routine home win against a toothless opponent. Why on earth would you spend time, money watching such miserable, spiritless inevitability?  (On the money front, incidentally… East Midland Trains.  Good God. I can get the three of us to London and back for under £20.  Three times that for a shorter distance to Leicester.  Criminal. Bastards.)

3- Actually the first half wasn’t that bad for the most part.  For much of the season our midfield hasn’t ever seemed quite right and it still doesn’t, but nonetheless it’s the bit that kinda looks closest to fully functional at the moment.  Doucouré, again, was majestic and looks like the engine of a much better side.  Tom Cleverley’s form has wandered off of late but this was his most dynamic outing for a while… and we were well in the game, having more of the possession.  It was scruffy and untidy and the final pass was inevitably missing but we were holding our own.

The thing is, an opponent competent enough to dominate possession but too blunt to do anything with it is pretty much exactly what this Leicester side, defined by their ability to counter-attack, would choose to play against.  Stefano Okaka, restored to the side in eye-catching fashion in place of Troy, worked hard in displaying a willingness to take on all comers but in similar fashion to Deeney against Liverpool was too isolated, the flickering Niang always happier pulling wide.  When we got bodies into the box we looked vaguely threatening but our best chance of recording our first away goal since January came when Cleverley latched onto a ball and thundered a rising drive goalwards.  Had it been a bit further from Schmeichel it would have caused problems.

Instead, the breakthrough came at the other end where Leicester’s attacks were already looking more venomous than our own. So they didn’t really need the helping hand of a silly free kick conceded by Prödl on bar-of-soap Okazaki, nor of an inexplicable leaden touch by Capoue to the resulting corner that teed up Ndidi.  All he had to do was swing a leg at it.

4- In the stands, we entered a sort of Twilight Zone.  Our afternoon had already taken another downward turn in the discovery that our seats located us behind an explosively angry, foul-mouthed gentleman who persisted in berating both teams and all officials loudly and crassly and, in the absence of a companion with whom to share his opinions, turning and elaborating in our direction.  We relocated in stages and watched as successive groups took up temporary residence in the same seats.

As the game progressed there were more and more angry men dotted around the stands, if none as spectacularly unpleasant.  Mariappa was having the first poor game of his second wind in the side, albeit he was slightly unfortunate that the beneficiary of his error was the elegant Mahrez;  he might have gotten away with it with half a second more to recover.  Gomes, also, bore no small responsibility having been beaten at his near post.  But the core problem was the lack of spirit, of ideas, of fight in the Watford ranks.  It wasn’t as stark or miserable as Hull but it was the same narrative.  Out for the first time came the “Quique Sanchez Flores” chant (and, more arbitrarily, odes to Aidy Boothroyd and Al Bangura), ostensibly provoking angry disputes within the stand. Nordin Amrabat – whose second half performance showcased the frustrating contradictions of his Watford career, willing running combined with hesitancy and hugely variable end product – became the focus for the boo-boys, the first in a few years.  Calls for his removal – and the introduction of the underused Success – were ignored as Niang was withdrawn for debutant Dion Pereira.  His first contribution was an instant, arcing left footed cross from the right that Okaka couldn’t quite get over.  He got a raucous reception in response, but there was never a suggestion that we’d get back into the game.  Instead Leicester got another fine goal on the break.  The stand emptied.

5- If the treatment of Amrabat, however inadequate his performance, seemed harsh – he was a potential player of the season before his injury – the resurrection of the Flores chant is revealing.  Looking back, Flores’ departure could not be justified based on our league performance;  45 points and 13th place absolutely more than fine.  What did for Flores, ultimately if not exclusively, was the trajectory of the season.  29 points in the first half, 16 in the second with performances that didn’t suggest that we’d merited any more.  There’s been no such schism this time (22/18 as we stand) but the recent performances have been poor, the defeats more absolute than the victories with few exceptions.  The trajectory argument still holds, I think… I’m certainly very happy that we’ve already got 40 points; if we had as few as 38 at this stage I think we’d be in serious trouble.  That’s not beating Swansea, for example, in particular.  Fine margins.

But that doesn’t justify chanting Flores’ name in itself.  You can argue that both sides nosedived, but what makes Flores a more attractive prospect?

The answer, beyond the grass-is-greener argument that always holds, is that Flores was manifestly a nice bloke.  Mazzarri may be a nice bloke but we just don’t know, we have no relationship with him and therefore no instinct to side with him.  A big element of supporting a team is being part of it, feeling you’re on the same side.  Mazzarri simply hasn’t prioritised that, it’s not important enough to him.  You can argue that it’s not his job to be everyone’s mate, but a consequence of the path he’s chosen is that nobody instinctively sides with him when the going gets tough.

6- And critically that appears to include the team.  These recent performances haven’t been as poisonous as the notorious Huddersfield game under Sannino in 2014 but there’s a manifest lack of team spirit, lack of belief, lack of evidence of everyone singing from the same sheet.  The discord is most evident in the relationship between head coach and captain in particular…  it seems inconceivable that both Troy and Mazzarri will be at the club next season, and for all that Troy has had a few of his less effective games recently, he was still there at the end of the game ushering Dion Pereira towards an ovation that completely changed the tone in the away end where boos had been echoing again.  The point is, Troy gets it…  he’s a great captain but a better diplomat than Mazzarri.  I want to root for him, I’d rather support a team captained by Troy than one managed by Mazzarri if that’s the choice.

Either way, it seems quite possible that we’ll end the season with six straight defeats.  Something needs to fundamentally change over the summer… it’ll be fascinating to see what decisions Pozzo and Duxbury make.

Yoorns.

One Graham Taylor. 12/01/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
40 comments

gtwave
How to add anything.  What to add. Eulogies can be so dull.  How not to flounder in superlatives? Forgive me if this isn’t coherent…

It’s tempting to list achievements. Promotions, Cup Final, Europe and so on.  You know all that, though.  How about…  pre-GT we had spent three of 96 years in the top two divisions.  Since GT arrived we’ve spent four outside the top two divisions.  Three of them getting promoted. His legacy includes a permanent shift in status. But more than “mere” achievement on the pitch, dramatic and fabulous though it was, changing our status though it did, was the “how”.  The what AND the how were what made him, what made us.

I started coming to Vicarage Road in 1980.  The best time, the worst time.  The best because we were on the gallop, on the way up.  The worst because, by the coincidence of my birth, I joined the party at a time when Watford were fantastic, on the pitch, off the pitch and that left a legacy.  Such high standards.  In that period, the five seasons that it took us to get to the top flight from the fourth division, we found time to record nine cup shocks.  Nine victories against higher-division opposition, including Manchester United (twice), European Champions Nottingham Forest and the overturning of Southampton’s 4-0 first leg lead with a 7-1 second leg.  For longer serving Watford fans this was remarkable.  For the kids… it was fantastic, but surely how football always was.  Beating the big guys.  Going out simply trying to score more than the other lot, and expecting to do so.

And more than that, being part of the family.  Mike Walters‘ brilliant piece in the Mirror hits the nail on the head;  he changed the way the club was.  He made it inclusive, safe, fun, and created a legacy that has little parallel. So you have kids of that generation – my generation – growing up with a wonderfully romantic, positive view of how Watford should be.  What the family club was like, what it meant. And that filters down. The prominence of red was part of that.  Yellow and black, smart, classy.  Yellow, red and black, fun.

England.  Yes, whatever.  Expectations exaggerated by an overperforming – some might say lucky – 1990 team which lost key personnel, had others on the way out.  Gascoigne injured, Shearer injured, still had to be horribly unlucky.  Whatever. The lazy, armchair view, the pillorying that we’ve all heard too often still makes me bitterly angry more than twenty years on.  Except that he had the good grace to get over it, or at least not to let it poison the way he conducted himself, so heaven knows I can manage.  And anyway, but for that would we have got him back, to do it all again?

Anecdotes.  So many.  The one about Elton and the bottle of brandy.  The one about ringing up fans who hadn’t renewed Season Tickets.  The one about being some stranger’s best man just because he’d asked him to.  The ones about the Family Enclosure Christmas parties where all the players turned up (in 1985, for example, the day after a horrible, violent clash with Tottenham) and he had as much time as anyone wanted. The thing that’s really clear, from social media, from your mates, from the radio is that everyone who ever had any contact with him had such an anecdote, or six.  The one where he is introduced to someone, meets them again six months later and remembers the name of their wife and kid.  The one where he meets a colleague of mine on the starting line of the London Marathon and when the name is shared asks the colleague to thank me for sponsoring him.

It’s all so human.  He was brilliant, brilliant at what he did.  As extraordinary as a rock star, a leader of industry, a fine artist, a racing driver, a bestselling writer.  But he was a real person too, touchable, reachable, quirky, goofy.  He replied to every star-struck letter that I sent him from the age of 10 to the age of 37.  As Fran put it elsewhere, whenever you met him he made you feel as if the privilege was his. He was brilliant AND human, and that made him truly, truly inspirational.

He was loved by many people, but he was the heart and soul of our club and our town.

We owe him a send-off.  We need to pull ourselves together.

See you Saturday.

gt

 

 

Watford 2 Burton Albion 0 (07/01/2017) 08/01/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
7 comments

1- So the F.A. Cup, then. Not What It Once Was. Maybe. Overburdened with bluster, the same tosh about romanticism that gets trotted out more or less annually around now before the TV companies pick the predictable games. And yes, West Ham getting humped was very funny but just as good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes sometimes bad decisions get lucky.

Either way, the F.A. Cup hasn’t plumbed the depths of the League Cup. The third round IS exciting, whatever, even with an absentee list that’s stronger than the available eleven, even in a no-win fixture at home to a new Championship side. We’re expected to go through, it’s a free punch for the Brewers. Romanticism and David v Goliath is all very well until you’re suddenly Goliath, relatively speaking, on the back of awful form and that injury list.

So, the decision to neglect Season Ticket holder’s right to their seat for the League Cup game against Gillingham was kind of OK. Everyone knows what the first round, our first round of the League Cup is about by now, few enough want to subject themselves to it. But for this? This is supposed to be a big deal, at least a serious game, and I want to be sitting in my seat, with my family and my mates. It’s part of the ritual, being denied “my” seat just pisses me off. Anecdotally a good number of the no-shows were turned off by that decision. Should I come to the cup game? Well I haven’t got my seat, so actually no. The club are well in credit as far as treating support is concerned and heaven knows that there are bigger things in the world to worry about but surprising that the importance of these things to folks is misjudged. Don’t think it’s just me.

img_3580

2- So we watch developments from the Elton John stand, which adds to the sense of this not being quite normal. Daughter 2 has her eyes on our seats. Daughter 1’s appears to be free, the other two are not and Daughter 2 glowers her disapproval. Fortunately it’s overcast; it’s thirty plus years since I sat in the Family Enclosure, I don’t miss the peaked cap.

The team selection was always going to be a source of fascination; whilst Walter has precious little flexibility it’s slightly surprising that he’s gone for virtually the strongest available selection in the circumstances. We’re pared back enough, perhaps, but you did half expect more than merely Seb Prödl given a rest on the bench, albeit perhaps a few of those unwell or unfit might have been risked for a League game. As it is, Seb is called into action anyway as Cathcart, who had taken a blow early on, is pulled up with what the ref indicates is a head injury. Initially it seems that he’s going off for stitches or something, but Seb’s on the touchline before Cathcart gets there. In fairness, the back three are immaculate throughout and in the first half are more than a match for the tentative questions that Burton throw at them.

But the stand-out selection is Brandon Mason at left back following his debut off the bench in the less forgiving environment of the caning by Spurs six days ago. Yes it’s been forced – it’s difficult to conceive of an alternative selection that wouldn’t have been extremely wonky – but it’s welcome anyway, a Good Thing. And Mason plays his role to a tee on several levels. His relentless positiveness and enthusiasm stands out a mile – he’s clearly having a whale of a time, and is the one pelting up the flank on the overlap to make an option. He gets carried away too… more than once he’s pulled back into position, his eagerness to play as a winger exposing Britos behind him and attracting stern words from senior colleagues, not least the still off-beam Ighalo who is reluctant to indulge the youngster with a pass. On balance though it’s a complete triumph… brave, bold, energetic, robust, tougher than his slight frame suggests. The crowning moment comes with yet another scamper down the left, a vicious low cross and Christian Kabasele is all alone at the far post. Mason’s celebration is a thing of joy, certainly unmatched in the SEJ stand where daughter 1 is aghast at the lack of jumping around.

3- Burton turn out to be a convenient opponent. Tough and competitive, putting a lot of pressure on the ball they are characterised by a level of aggression that just about stays the right side of the line, a general bluntness up front and a who’s who of familiar names from Championship years past – not the stars, the other guys, the supporting cast. Lee Williamson, who joined the Hornets ten years ago this week, ticks all of those boxes; five years later he received a red card here in Sheffield United’s colours for taking out Lloyd Doyley, here his thunderous challenge on Capoue was as clean as a whistle but left no margin for error and saw the Frenchman sitting on his backside and rubbing his jaw. Elsewhere Albion reveal a decent line in narky little forwards; Jamie Ward is a first half sub, Luke Varney stretchered off on his debut after a collision with Pantilimon. Andy suggests Jamie Cureton would have completed the set.

Overall though there is next to no threat on our goal in the first half. In the second period Albion have a lot more attacking width and have two good opportunities earlier on but are forced onto the back foot and having missed those chances offer little thereafter. We rarely threaten to overwhelm them, but it’s comfortable enough… long spells of possession that occasionally unsettle the visitors when we tease some discomfort from their defence.

4- The second period also sees two other fringe players make a claim. Jerome Sinclair has seen his status escalated from occasional bench-filler in the wake of our current situation. Here, fielded as part of a rotating front three with Troy and Ighalo he failed to impose himself in the first half, often struggling to keep his feet. In the second… at one-up we’re always vulnerable to an equaliser, however stealthily it would have needed to sneak up on us, until Sinclair sets off on a slalom from the halfway line midway through the half and finishes with a flourish. Daughter 1 and I execute the premeditated strategy of celebrating like it’s the Rookery and be damned. Sinclair’s made it look easy – in fairness Burton’s resistance was cursory – but his confidence blossoms thereafter. Now he’s a menace, running at a Burton defence that’s clearly had enough, first releasing Ighalo for a painfully deliberate shot that McLaughlan saves then threatening to reprise his earlier effort with angles, this time, narrowed by the Brewers’ once-bitten caution. Difficult to dispute Mazzarri’s later assertion that getting games is the key thing for him on this evidence.

Meanwhile, the near-mythical Brice Dja Djédjé has made an unheralded entrance from the bench and looks thoroughly accomplished… dynamic, powerful and clearly happy to be playing football at last he comes close to crowning his cameo with a goal, clouting a long range shot enthusiastically, narrowly over. Like Sinclair, his energy and willingness are welcome.

5- Overall, then, reassuringly straightforward. True, an away tie against a Championship side in a better vein of form might have presented more of an issue but all in all and against all expectations – and awaiting news on what will hopefully have been a precautionary withdrawal for Cathcart – the game has proven to be a Good Thing in its own right. Yes, you’d want to see us playing better and creating more and looking more confident but it’s a positive step nonetheless in it’s routineness, in racking up a comfortable win despite everything. Good showings by several younger or newer players, a clean sheet and no replay.

Job Done. Yoorns.