Championship 2011-12: the bloggers' end-of-season report
From The Rookery End's Mike Parkin has been asked again to contribute to The Guardian's Football League Blog. You can read his look back on Watford's season below, and check out the feelings of fans from every other Champtionship club on their site.
Dream or nightmare? This season may not have had the highs of last year, but looking back it's clear Watford's 2011-12 has been greater than the sum of its parts. Under a new manager and shorn of pivotal performers such as Danny Graham, Don Cowie and Will Buckley the year got off to a terrible start and it looked like we were going to be in for the relegation scrap so many had predicted. Slowly though, results started improving and whilst we were never going to win many plaudits for our style of play, we became very hard to beat. The departure of England U21 striker Marvin Sordell left many of us wondering where the already rare goals were going to come from, but Troy Deeney performed admirably – making up for his lack of finishing prowess with an astonishing refusal to give up on anything. The inspired loan signings of Michael Kightly and Alex Kacaniklic provided us with some much needed width and creativity and we ended up briefly flirting with the play-offs before finishing neatly nestled in 11th. 'Anything but relegation' was the phrase on all Hornets fans lips before the season began, so to end comfortably mid-table has to represent success.
Top marks Watford fans have seen Adrian Mariappa come through the youth ranks, developing season by season into something that now looks uncannily like a top class defender. This hasn't gone unnoticed, and during the January transfer window he rebuffed approaches by both Wigan and Newcastle to stay with the Hornets, cementing his place as a Hornets legend.
Bottom of the class Striker Chris Iwelumo was unfairly targeted by a section of Watford fans, whilst a series of clangers from keeper Scott Loach meant he was on the wrong end of a bit of treatment too. For me though, this unwanted accolade has to go to Mark Yeates. A winger, he failed to provide any spark and creativity, struggled to beat a man and put in consistently dreadful crosses. Apart from that, he played a blinder.
The gaffer Sean Dyche had already won me over by virtue of looking incredibly scary and sounding even scarier. (If you haven't heard him interviewed I urge you to do so). After a poor start he was criticised by many for not fielding more of Watford's promising crop of academy graduates, but he did a fantastic job of turning things around and an 11th place finish when most people expected relegation speaks for himself. Well played sir.
Best moment Beating Millwall away on transfer deadline day amid furious speculation about the future of Adrian Mariappa and the departure of top scorer Marvin Sordell hours before kick of spoke wonders about the commitment and professionalism of this Watford team. Equally impressive was turning round a 0-2 deficit to beat Burnley 3-2 at home – the encapsulation of a never say die attitude and it was a joy to behold.
Worst moment Shipping a last minute equaliser at home to Leeds was tough – we tore them apart for the majority of the game and to let it slip at the death was tough. A personal lowlight was Pompey away on 2 January. I had persuaded my three-year-old daughter to accompany me, but she had a change of heart at the turnstiles. I finally managed to cajole her inside to witness us lose 2-0 and have a man sent off in conditions that would seem cold at the north pole.
Best fans I think the Peterborough fans are a good bunch. They understand where their club currently sit in the grand scheme of things and as such have reasonable expectations. They appreciate it when their team plays decent football, but also accept they aren't going to win every week. They strike me as having the balance right.
Worst fans West Ham fans are almost a parody of themselves now. Their 'We're West Ham United, we play on the floor' chant is as cringeworthy as it is hilarious. Shut up and get on with it. I know it's a bit out of my remit, but the 'Kean Out' brigade at Blackburn need to have a long hard look at themselves too.
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