Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Do you want to go up?

To go up or not to go up... that's a hell of a question?

Every fan wants promotion into the Premier League for the days of celebration and jubilation and the sight of the Superstars of the game coming to their home ground. But no one wants to come straight back down. More and more we are seeing teams coming straight back down after promotion - Waford haven't lasted more then a year ourselves in our two stints in the Big P. So I was interested in reading Billy Davies honest comments in the Daily Express yesterday when pointed out that his Forest fans would want to go up this season.

‘But they don’t get sacked after 12 games (like Davies did at Derby in the Premier League in 2007). 'We don’t want to get in there and come straight down. We want to get in there at the right time so the club are ready to maintain a strong challenge.’

I couldn't agree with him more. We've had a fantastic season so far, and only 5 points off the play offs. If we went up this season we would get the millions the Premier League has to offer - which would come in handy with the current financial situation - but unless we want to end up right back where we were financially a month ago in a few years time.

Is one season in the Premier League worth it?

I would love it if we got promotion and could defer it for a year. Only two clubs would be relegated that year and four the following season. We wouldn't have to be in a promotion position in the deferred season and we'd get the Premier League cash and a year to build a team so we can take on the big boys.

Now, some tell that doesn't make a lot of sense?

Half Term Report

So that's all the Watford football of 2009 done and dusted and if I were a school teacher writing a half term report I'd give the team a B+ grade - "far better then expected".

We started the season as an unsettled team. We didn't know who was coming and who was going and at the start of the season you really want to know your core players and build this seasons team with. This is even more important with a new manager and new ways of thinking. The team we saw in August was the 1st Watford team of the season, and up until the closing of the transfer window and the lose of Tommy Smith and Mike Williams we sat in 13th with 1 (away) win, 3 draws and 1 lose - not bad.

So with no new players coming in at the end of the transfer window Malky started to build the 2nd Watford team on loanees. And what a great bunch he has brought in. We turned into a passing, running and selfless team and apart from the Cardiff, West Brom and Derby games we've been a great team playing some great football grind out results and even win a few in style. Our Championship peak position came in early December after our 3-1 win over QPR. In the last few weeks of December have we started to lacked a final touch to convert our great football into goals.

For me (so far) this has been one of my favourite seasons, and I've certainly seen some of the most entertaining and attractive football I've seen at Vicarage Road for many years.

We've had some stand out players. In midfield loanees Tom Cleverley and Henri Landsbury have come in to give us a very attacking set up, and the returning John Eustace has played very well as midfield anchor. At the back Scott Loach has certainly proved his postiton as one of Englands best young shot stoppers and Lloyd Doyley not only scored THAT goal - the spiritual highlight of the season - but he certainly seems to be reading the game a lot better. And upfront Heidar Helguson has returned on loan to give us a few more crucial goals that we so fondly remember from his first period with us. My player of the season so far has been Lee Hodson. He is turning into a brilliant right back for us and you have to respect how he has taken the opportunity given to him

So at the end of 2009 we sit in 13th place on 32 points, 5 points off the play offs and 11 points off the relegations zone. That is certainly a position I could have only wished for at the start of the season. There are 22 League games left and going on the average over the last few seasons* we need another 16 points for safety.

I now know what it feels like to be a fan with confidence in his team for the season ahead.

* Football League points 1 point more then the 3rd relegation place
2008-09 - 47 points
2007-08 - 53 points
2006-07 - 43 points
Average = 47.6 = 47 + 53 + 43 / 3

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Sticks and Stones...

So Graham Taylor called Jimmy Russo a "Bad Man" last week on Sky Sports News.

Why? Because of Russo's conduct at the AGM. It certainly didn't seem the sort of thing that would get lawyers involve. However it seems it is. I saw the interview and I saw the pure passion and true hurt in Graham Taylors eyes. And in a week of high emotions the phrase "Bad Man" is nothing compared to what a lot of fans were calling Russo.

My big problem with this story is that it's only being kept alive because of interviews where Jimmy himself brings it up. I always thought that during his time in Chairman Russo was open and used the media around him very well and kept Watford fans in the loop. However, in the last week he has become the kind of contact a journalist loves. You can call him up, you'll know that he'll come on and he'll always have something interesting to say. Very quickly he'll start looking like a self-publicist who really has nothing to publicise. That just comes across as egotistical.

As Hornblooger said in his post, Jimmy must have GT's phone number so use it. Sort it out between yourselves lad, not in the media. It's the right way of doing things that should have been done a few months ago between chairman and shareholders. And maybe, just maybe we wouldn't have got ourselves in the financial situation we are/were in.

Let it go Jimmy... "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me".

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

When to move on...

Watford have always been a team where players can make a bit of a name for themselves before moving up the football club food chain. Plus with our financial situation it looks like we will be doing it for a while longer. Yesterday's press stories about better ties with Wycombe is a great policy. We not only develop our own talent, but can make money from being the middleman in players careers. There isn't going to be a Mike Williamson every season, but one once it a while will be a lovely thing.

The next man to move on up from Watford look set to be Scott Loach. Spurs, Arsenal and Villa have all been rumoured to be interested in him and if they meet the $3million price tag I suspect he will be leaving in January. I was however very interested in reading Malky Mackay's words on the subject:

"Scott will move to a big club, but I don't want to lose him yet,"

"Another year here will do him a lot more good than sitting on a Premier League bench."

I view Mackay as a motivating and developing manager. I imagine he's the kind of guy that can get a young team up and ready to win. He's not an ego and when he says words like this I believe him. I also agree with him 100% on Loach's development. He is a fantastic shot stopper and can pull off a great saves that impresses a crowd. I do however have worries about his ability to command his penalty area on set plays and corners. I wince a little when the ball comes in and I'm thankful for the return of Jay Demerit to centre defence. He maybe first choice for England U21's, but a little bit more time at Watford will mean he will overcome his current faults. That way he moves on he will walk straight into the starting line up of a Premier League club rather then just into contention and a possible career sat on Premier League benches.

The Duke

So we might have seen the end of Nathan Ellington's tenure as a Watford Footballer. And you know what's weird?... It makes me a little sad.

As football fans come I'm an optimist. Right up until the final whistle of a game there is a little bit inside me that thinks we can pull anything off. So when The Duke returned to us this summer I hoped he would become our top goal scorer or at least be our go to super-sub. He'd come on and score winning goal after winning goal, imagine all the hope and enjoyment he could have given hornets fans? Alas that only happened once away to Ipswich, and it was only an equalising goal.

Ellington's place in the History of Watford players will not only be comical for his lack of goals compared to his astronomical cost, but more so how he will be the "type of player" that Watford will never buy again. If/when Watford make it out of financial problems or back to the money fields of the Premier League, I hope that we don't have a policy of spending big money to help gain us points or survival. The one overriding strategy I hope we keep from Russo reign - for now and forever - is to spend within our means. Ellington was never that.

It's worth noting that his loan move to Skoda Xanthi is only a year and he is contract at Waford until summer 2011. So the optimist in me would love for him to return for the end of next season and score goal after goal after goal and either save us from relegation or give us that bit of spunk that gets us promoted. That's the optimist in me, and if he does then maybe, just maybe we might think of him as having earnt his £3.25 million.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Watford. It could be you...

Well if there is one thing you can say with certainty about Watford, it’s that there is never a dull moment (Saturday’s drab encounter with Derby the exception that proves the rule).

If it’s not relegation it’s promotion. If it’s not players being threatened with deportation, its players we can’t get rid of. Condemned main stand? Yep, got one of those. Acrimonious dealings with ex-Managers? Check. Boardroom battles and impending financial disaster. Oh yes indeed.

As the fallout from Tuesday’s AGM continues, things are looking increasingly bleak for the future of Watford Football Club. At the time of writing, the Russo’s are expecting the full repayment of their £4.8million loans by 5:30pm. Call me a cynic, but something tells me they aren’t going to accept Nathan Ellington and a job lot of WFC advent calendars in lieu of payment.

This correspondent doesn’t pretend to know the ins and outs of what is going on in the corridors of what little power is left at Vicarage Road, but it seems to me the Russo’s are our only hope. They have made an offer to buy the club outright, which includes the servicing of the much publicised £5.5million funding gap. However, the newly aligned axis of Ashcroft and Simpson aren’t playing ball for whatever reason, and are reluctant to sell. Presumably they have their eyes on Watford’s only tangible asset, Vicarage Road Stadium.

As it stands the Russo’s offer remains on the table, and my understanding is that if it isn’t accepted by close of business today, administration at the very least is inevitable. The implications of this are well documented and utterly terrifying for a club the size of ours. Clubs have been sailing close to the wind for some time and analysts have long predicted that a major club will fall. We can only hope and pray it isn’t ours.

There is no reason it shouldn’t be Watford – we’re no different to any of the other clubs out there, it’s just this time it’s us in the firing line and it really doesn’t feel like much fun.

I’m sure that many will argue it will take the collapse of a high profile club for the game and the various governing bodies to take the situation seriously and look at ways in which the future of football can be safeguarded. How that can be achieved is anyone’s guess, but what is clear, is that football in its current guise isn’t sustainable. The Top 4 clubs have driven up the cost of players and their wages to such a level that there is no hope of any club outside the elite competing with them. Try to compete and the financial strain will almost certainly eventually cripple your club. Don’t attempt to compete, and well, what’s the point? Your club will eventually lose its fans to the armchair and Sky Sports and ESPN.

I haven’t got the answer to either Watford’s woes or those of the game at large. Someone has to start thinking about it though, as soon it won’t be just clubs under serious threat of extinction, but the game itself.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

After the Lloyd Mayor's Show...

It’s so often the case. After memorable highs, come instantly forgettable lows.

Producing a performance to follow the extraordinary scenes we witnessed at Vicarage Road on Monday night was always going to be difficult, but I suppose it is a measure of how far this squad of borrowed players, youngsters and journeymen have come under Malky Mackay that Saturday’s home defeat to Derby was as disappointing as it was unexpected.

It was a cold day, and the sticky looking pitch was never going to be conducive to free flowing football. Add into the mix Derby’s hard working, tough tackling game plan and an early Danny Graham miss from distance, and it quickly became apparent that it was going to be one of those days.

Credit to Derby. From the first whistle to the last they didn’t let Watford have any time on the ball, and the previously effective Cleverley and Cowie were shut down time and time again. Derby battled, tackled, huffed and puffed, and whilst they didn’t look like scoring, neither did we.

As the game wore on it occurred to me that Derby were doing to us what we have done to so many other teams in recent years, and why so many opposition fans had derided us and our tactics. Effective, most certainly. Enjoyable to watch? Even an episode of X-Factor would have provided a tempting alternative.

Watford didn’t play well, but we shouldn’t be too downhearted. This was a well organised Derby team, desperate for their first away win. As much as it pains me to say it, Robbie Savage was a picture of experience and know how – marshalling the game from seemingly the same spot on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes. Additional footballing know how and niggle came from Lee Hendrie and the much travelled Paul Dickov. Compare the careers of these guys to those of Lee Hodson, Liam Henderson and Ross Jenkins, and you get an idea of what we are up against in this division.

More often than not, our youngsters have proved up to the task this season, and it is for that reason that I doubt many Hornets fans will have trouble moving on quickly after Saturday’s 0-1 defeat. This Watford team has already given us much to cheer this season, and despite the increasing spectre of financial meltdown off the pitch, on the pitch has in the main (unexpectedly) been a joy to behold.

Speaking of which, I can’t close without mentioning last Monday night. 7 December 2009, or “Lloyd-D Day” as it shall now be known.

Since the news emerged that Adrian Mariappa and Lloyd Doyley had been locked in fierce competition to be the first to break their goalscoring duck, the attention of many Watford fans turned from the duos defensive performances to their chances of scoring at the other end. Aidy Mariappa comfortably beat Lloyd in their personal duel, but since then Watford fans have been collectively willing Doyley on, and this season the performances of the team had allowed him to creep ever closer to his first ever goal.

Well, against QPR, it finally arrived. Described by the Sky commentary as looking as if he had been “fired from a cannon” Lloyd Doyley met Don Cowie’s cross with a thundering header and for a couple of seconds everything stopped. The massed ranks of Hornets fans exchanged looks and cautious smiles, seeking confirmation that what they had just seen was real and not some bizarre optical illusion.

Realisation dawned and then – bedlam.

A celebration of joy, of togetherness. A celebration that will live long in the memory of all that were there, and one that reinforces the good feeling that is back at Vicarage Road. A feeling that we are all in this together and are once again pulling in the same direction. There was genuine affection towards “Lloydhino” from fans and players alike, and the noisy, joyous, quite frankly bonkers celebrations felt like a truly shared moment.

Such moments are infrequent in modern day football, and this was an occasion to savour. I am relieved, proud and delighted to be able to leave you with the refrain…”I was there when Doyley scored!”

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Watford 0-1 Derby County… One of those days!

11 minutes and 5 seconds* into this game Derby Keeper Stephen Bywater miss kicked his clearance and gave Danny Graham a long range chance. He missed the goal by about a foot. Afterwards a fella sitting behind me said:

“It’s going to be one of those days isn’t it?”

And it was. Did any Watford player play badly - No not really. They just seemed to be off their best. In defence Lee Hodson seemed to be missing a touch and often gave up the ball to Derby. In midfield Don Cowie and Tom Cleverly didn’t play as well as they had. Cowie didn’t turn up all game and Cleverly was very quiet in the first half which lead to youthful frustration and only a few decent moves in the second half. And up front Helguson and Graham had some great chances but were missing the killer edge that we’ve seen banging the goals in. Apart from the long range Graham effort Eustace had a very close chance towards the end of the game which he tipped over. No one played bad, just not what we’ve come to expect this season. Jay Demerit returning to the starting line up was the only player to not put a foot wrong. It gave me a great feeling of stability and confidence having him in the back.

So if it wasn’t a poor performance from Watford then what? For me it was the incredibly negative and often too aggressive play from Derby that limited Watford. It forced the ref to make many of poor decisions that went in both Watford and Derby favour. I don't think we can blame him 100% for the loss. He made for a very untidy game and young Watford getting more frustrated. Derby were never going to score a goal from open play, and they are one of the poorest footballing sides I’ve seen this season. But they had their tactics and they stuck to them. They came to spoil any kind of attractive and passing football we’re coming to love at Vicarge Road and play spoiler. I hate to say it but Robbie Savage was very good and really controlled the Derby midfield and was the real builder of boring Derby football. He was a cun….ning fella!

What can you take from this game? Well Watford can have bad day and if a team turns up to play negative football and happens to score a goal then we can lose games. Don’t worry too much about it… we’ve got Peterborough next week and they’re proper pants.

*I didn’t look at my watch or write down notes at the game… I looked it up on the BBC website… I’m not that geeky.