Where to now? (End of season update)

I originally wrote this a few weeks ago after the Huddersfield game. Now the season has run its course I thought I would revisit it and see if there was anything I wanted to change.

It’snever er been an easy ride being a fan of Watford. Years of mediocrity interrupted by the 1st Taylor era, followed by more years of mediocrity with the two play-off wins (less said about the seasons that followed both, the better) and then a seeming spiral of near-terminal decline following the financial crises of the early 2010’s.

All of a sudden a saviour (or at least a family thereof) appeared from the east. Gino Pozzo, for reasons I still can’t entirely fathom, decided that our homely little club with its ramshackle stadium, in an uninspiring corner of one of SE England’s least glamorous towns was to be his bridgehead to the riches of the premier league.

I won’t repeat the full history of the years since then, as I am sure we are all aware of it, rather, I want to look to the future and try and get a feeling of where I think the club is going and where I feel it should go.

It has been a strange season by any standards. The hope and excitement that I and most fans greeted the appointment of Marco Silva with evaporated in the late autumn, leaving another season to grind its way to the mediocrity of mid-table survival.

I think I speak for most Watford fans when I say that serious surgery needs to happen to our squad this summer, players who may not have always been fan favourites but usually reliable have begun to creak lately so here goes, feel free to disagree and flame me on social media:

The boss – Gracia is on an 18 month contract. I’m still not sure what his favoured tactical set up is but surely he deserves a transfer window and a pre-season but our dismal away form is a major concern. – Keep, if no better alternative appears.


Heurelho Gomes – A nailed on Vicarage Road legend and seems like a nice guy to boot but like many in the current squad a player whose best days are behind him. Release

Oerestes Karnezis – A good shot stopper who did well to come back after his horror show at Goodison, but still positionally suspect and hasn’t commanded the box well enough when the ball has been lumped in recently. Release

Daniel Bachmann – I saw him play for 45 minutes in pre-season and really can’t say much about him one way or the other. Keep as I’ve got rid of the other two keepers.


Daryl Janmaat – I can’t help liking this guy, even though as every Geordie said when we signed him, he can’t defend for toffee but does offer good attacking threat and I feel that he may yet form a decent partnership on the right with Kiko. Keep

Kiko Feminia – Pace and determination and no small amount of skill. With a bit of decent coaching regarding his positional play, a real superstar could emerge. Keep

Craig Cathcart – Injury has wrecked his season but I reckon he’s got another decent year in his legs, could form a good partnership with Kabasele if both stay fit. Keep

Miguel Britos – The years have finally caught up with the combative Uruguyan. Release

Younes Kaboul – Same as Britos I’m afraid. We’ll always have his free-kick at the Emirates. Release

Seb Prodl – A player who has gone backwards at a rate of knots this season. Seems to have lost the positional sense that used to mask his lack of pace. Release

Adrian Mariappa – Another whose time as a top-flight player has come to an end. Can easily see him dropping down a division and captaining a side to promotion before being released. Release

Chris Kabasele – One of the few players in the current squad who seem to understand the ethos of a “family club”. On the pitch he has improved greatly this season and we have certainly missed him recently. Keep

Molla Wague – “Thanks for you efforts, but we’ve really seen nothing to warrant keeping you.” Release

Marvin Zeegalar – A modern fullback i.e. one who cant’ actually defend that well. Release

Tommie Hoban – Hard to remember his breakthrough season under Zola which was truncated by injury. I think the road back for him won’t go through Vicarage Road. A real pity. Release

Jose Holebas – Burnt his bridges at Southampton in the cup. It’s a sign of our weaknesses that he is probably our best defensive full back but his time is done. Release


Etienne Capoue – A really difficult one this. At times he can look lazy and has a terrible habit of giving the ball away and then fouling the player he’s just lost out to. However, think for a moment of some of our best performances in the PL and one thing they have in common is man-of-the match displays from the Frenchman (particularly away at the Emirates last year). Keep, but sell if a decent enough offer comes in.

Tom Cleverly – No arguments surely, just don’t let him take penalties. Keep and make club captain.

Didier N’Dong – No, me neither. Release.

Nathaniel Chalobah – Without doubt, his injury has damaged our season more than any other. Keep

Abdoulaye Doucoure – Started the season fantastically but carrying the team through the winter seems to have sapped even his phenomenal energy. Despite some worrying “come and get me” pleas to Wenger, I think he still has a lot to prove at the very highest level. Keep

Will Hughes- If his fitness hadn’t been an issue mid-season, he could well be looking forward to a trip to Russia this year. A genuine star in the making. Keep

Andre Carillo – See Molla Wague Release

Roberto Pereyra – Certainly not the number 10 playmaker we thought he might be but certainly shown the ability to give opposition problems on either flank. Still reluctant to go in for 50-50s but seems to be gaining confidence. Keep


Gerard Deulofeu – An all time great performance vs Chlesea, followed by a season-ending injury some how sums up this season. Bags of potential but that’s what Evertonians felt. Keep

Richarlison – Another one whose form came down with the Christmas decorations but the potential is unmistakeable – needs a good rest over the summer. Keep but if others really are serious about £40m bids, bite their hands off.

Dodi Lukebakio- Presumably signed for the future. Keep (I guess)

Stefano Okaka – After his freezing out by Silva, many considered the lumbering Italian “The Answer” – he isn’t. Release

Jerome Sinclair- See Carillo & Wague Release

Andre Grey – He’s getting some stick for his part in the build-up to Huddersfield’s goal (though shocking defending/goalkeeping was surely more at fault) and has not established himself as a fan favourite, but to be fair he has been asked to play in a system that doesn’t suit him. He scored goals in Dyche’s anti-football side so he must have something about him- surely? Keep (with reservations)

Troy Deeney – There have been times this season when I feel his brain has not been fully engaged before he has spoken and that some of the remarks have come back to haunt him. All of this would matter little if his performances and discipline on the pitch had been anything to write home about. Frankly they haven’t, and seven games out through suspension just isn’t acceptable. My money is on his goals shooting West Brom to promotion from the championship next season. Release, with gratitude.

The Club Whilst we are miles ahead off the pitch from where we were when the Pozzi rode into town, there is one thing which baffles more fans than anything – the huge number of injuries the players have suffered and the seeming inability of the medical team to get them fit in a reasonable amount of time. I know the square root of zero about sports medicine but clearly something isn’t working.

The role of Filippo Giraldi has come into question recently and it does seem that his default style of thinking is to go for short-term solutions rather than trying to build for the long-term – maybe it’s time for refreshing that part of the organisation.

Whilst the mood amongst the fanbase is towards the disgruntled end of the spectrum, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are a premier league club, would we really like to go back to the days when signing Carl Dickinson and Chris Iwelumo was a cause for celebration to fans in a three-sided ground?

My thoughts so far

The incomparable BHappy usually discusses a match in 5 paragraphs or so. Alas, the last few days have given rise to a few more points in my mind, so bear with me.

  1. Slav is not the head coach any more, nor is he likely to be. We have to move on and accept QSF and the fact that he is head coach and is very much a man to do things his way.
  2. We are now playing in the premier league, the defenders are several orders of magnitude better than in the championship. They know how to mark and they don’t spend the game ball-watching. We will be lucky to make 5 or 6 chances in a game, so it was frustrating when Capoue & Ighalo missed theirs.
  3. We are trying to assimilate lots of new players into the squad and build on the strengths we already have – this will take time.
  4. QSF has a hugely impressive CV – he does know what he is doing. He sees the players in training – we do not.
  5. Every player on the pitch that I have seen is giving 100%, though some do need to get up to “Premier League” fitness.
  6. We are unbeaten and have not trailed in any game so far. OK so we haven’t scored at home either but good teams are built from the back.
  7. The Vydra situation has not been handled well – but he is not the “answer”
  8. Nor is Fessi.
  9. Capoue and Behrami are far and away the best CM pairing we have had for many a year. Think back to last time we were in the prem – would you rather have Mahon and Francis back?
  10. Ditto Cathcart and Prodl at CB.
  11. Deeney is having to learn a new role – he has gone from GCSE level examinations to University – it’s going to take some time but I do believe he will pass the exam.
  12. 4-2-3-1 is a decent system, what we need to sort, IMHO, is the player in the middle of the 3 – Ighalo didn’t look comfortable there. Perhaps Abdi?
  13. Look at the stadium, I mean (apart from the NE corner) just look at it!
  14. There’s a long way to go this season, but to hear what some people are saying we are already done for and need to be once again thinking of the best route to Ipswich or Sheffield Wednesday.

In this moment we must to be…..

The phrase above is one that Slav often uses in his post-match interviews with Jon Marks to start his reply, often accompanied by a sigh. After the disappointment of Ipswich’s last-second goal (yin to the yang of our winner at Bolton) thought I would try and give some finishes to the Serb supremo’s sentences.

Calm – I know yesterday was possibly one of the worst games of the season. Ipswich came with Jay Tabb & 10 rugby players and suckered us into playing their game. A friend of mine who is a STH at Portman Road said to me after yesterday’s game “Think yourself lucky – I have to watch that combative route 1 football every home game!” We only lost because we decided to attack in the last minute & one player made a subsequent error. For 95 minutes, we had kept the league’s top scorer very quiet.

Forgiving – Yes Layun was shocking yesterday – he seems not to have kicked on since he started and still looks rather lightweight.However he is a Watford player. We don’t want people to re-activate the #TodoEsCulpaDeLayun (It’s all Layun’s fault) hashtag that plagued him in Mexico now do we.?Watson will have nightmares about the goal for months. We, however need to get behind the team, not on its back. These are the same players that have forked out for free coach travel to Derby for the fans. We need to back them.

Positive We are second with seven games to go. Need I say more?

Excited For most of the last few seasons, March was a month where we would do no more than speculate whereabouts between 12th and 16th we would finish. Now promotion is a possibility, we have a great team and a manager who has won over many of those who were skeptical about his appointment. We have a four-sided ground and owners who are in it for the long term. Even three years ago when we were watching Iwelumo, Loach, Dickinson & Garner this was a million miles away.

I can’t be the only one who starts thinking about the game on Thursdays and even find the “Watford Weekend” preview show with its gentle questioning of the players and staff required viewing. I hate international breaks at the best of times, I would much rather we were playing Tuesday, let alone next Saturday. If this isn’t enough for you, than what on earth would be?

Keeping things in perspective Every time we see #fornicforpromotion and applaud in the 44th minute we must pause to think that there are things in life more important than football.

Despite yesterday’s irritating defeat, it is still in our hands. It’s going to be tense and there are a huge number of twists and turns to come. But be honest – would we rather be Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton? I know where I would rather be.

Come on you Horns!


New dawn or false dawn?

Ok, so I know the title isn’t clever, funny or original but supporting Watford this (and let’s face it every year) is usually a series of highs and lows and our recent form has certainly been a prime example of this. Supine vs Wolves, sublime vs Cardiff, pony vs Huddersfield, thoroughbred vs Charlton and so on. Whilst not wishing to infringe on the territory of the incomparable BHappy I thought I would try and make sense of yesterdays result with a series of thoughts:

  1. Charlton were terrible – Every so often a team comes to the Vic which is utterly devoid of any tactical plan or skill. Bolton or Leeds earlier this season fitted the bill. Watford in the first half vs Wolves also had that mantle. However, Charlton really took that stale biscuit yesterday.Apart from the first 10 minutes where they exploited a moments of doubt from Angella & Hoban, they offered next to nothing. Bikey & Ben-Haim must be the slowest central defensive partnership in the history of football, Harriot and Vetekele are “jigsaw players” (fall apart in the box) and far too lightweight a forward line for the championship. As for the rest bar the goalie – just far too anonymous to even merit a discussion.
  2. A Change in Slav I have moved seats from the VR to just behind away dugout in the SEJ. This also lets me see what is happening in our technical area. Previously SJ was happy to stand in the technical area, hands in pockets and let Ruben Martinez do the shouting and whenever the players came over to the bench, RM would seem to be issuing the instructions. Not so yesterday. SJ, braving a very chilly first half without his coat, was definitely in charge – hands out of pockets, applauding and encouraging the players and doing all the talking in breaks in play. I know he has yet to win everyone over, but the more I see of him, the more I like him. His exile of the dissidents in the squad shows a head coach who  knows what he wants. Time will tell but I like the direction in which we are going.
  3. Tactical Flexibility When Munari had to come off, our midfield went from lightweight to featherweight with Anya’s switch into the middle. However, we then decided that the best way of avoiding being overrun in the middle of the park was to hit the front two early. A tactic that worked brilliantly – particularly for Deeny’s goal.
  4. Layun Not being able to get to many away games, this was my first view of our new Mexican. (Not sure what he thought of the Junior Hornets’ page in the programme and its collection of stereotypes) What I saw I likes, great first touch good vision and prepared to run at people. Other teams will not give him the space that the Addicks did but I think he will prove to be a great piece of business by the Pozzi.
  5. Ighalo The man continues to get better. Yesterday his energy and quality shone out. He even scored a goal from a header. From a corner. We never do that! Seriously though he is beginning to look a real threat and his partnership on the field with Deeney is fast becoming reminiscent of the King/Hendo duo of 05/06.
  6. Comparion of Fans We have the 1881 who have, mainly through good humour and stupendous effort lifted the atmosphere in the Rookery and now we have a four-sided ground I think it is improving elsewhere. (FWIW I think they should stay in the Rookery). Some of the Charlton fans however leave a lot to be desired. I accept that they are angry with their board (this blog gives some of the background) but fighting with the police and misogynist chanting is the sort of thing we expect from Milwall fans. Also I have never seem what I saw at the end of the game: 3 players went straight down the tunnel, the others who went to applaud the fans got as far as the edge of the penalty area before they were sent back with a tide of abuse – a couple of the younger ones seemed visibly shocked.
  7. The Referee He blew his whistle to begin and end each half, rightly booked two Charlton players and kept up with play throughout. Can we have more like him please.
  8. Men with notebooks In the back three rows of the SEJ there were about half a dozen men scribbling furiously in notebooks throughout the game. Has scouting not moved into the digital age? For older readers, there was one who was sporting a superb “Alan Biley” silver mullet. I think he was from Blackpool. No wonder he left after 80 minutes.

So where next? As is always the case in life, news of Abdi’s projected four-week absence took a bit of the gloss off yesterday (though the warm glow of Toszer’s free kick still remains) but Blackpool next week looks winnable and I am sure that the Pozzi have a few surprises up their sleeve in the transfer window. We have the talent, no doubt and whilst yesterday was superb, we have got to keep winning. One thing’s for sure – it won’t be dull!


What do we want in the transfer window?

As the last of the turkey sandwiches is eaten and relatives dispatched back to whence they came, most football fans’ attention will be focused in one of two places: The third round of the FA Cup and the incipient opening of the transfer window.

As regards the cup, my wife and I speak with one voice here. “£30 to see us stuffed again?- no way!” Indeed I have seen the Golden Boys twice at Stamford Bridge with an aggregate score of 9-0 to the blues and I don’t think we had a shot in the two games. I will be happy to eat the most massive slices of humble pie on Monday if I am wrong but I suspect it will be my normal toasted sandwich from the school canteen instead.

Fortunately, the inevitable defeat on Sunday will leave us “free to concentrate on the league” and I for one think this is a good thing. Slav needs time with the squad to make sure they understand what he wants them to do, particularly at home against big, strong teams that defend deep.

I don’t pretend to know the names of the players I would buy in all cases, particularly those on the Pozzi radar from across Europe and beyond but I will describe the type of player I think we need.

  1. Back-up Goalkeeper – As my (long-suffering) wife will tell you – I do not rate Bond very highly and whilst Gilmartin is an excellent and entertaining summariser on 3CR with Jon Marks  he is not the man I would want to see coming on in a crisis.
  2. Left-footed defender I am firmly in the “Pudil must play” camp but he will get injured or suspended – other than Hoban or possibly Ekstrand we don’t have anyone who can even try to cover this position. neither Anya nor Doyley can do it – both are too right footed. **STOP PRESS** As usual the Pozzi are several steps ahead of us fans and the potential signing of Mexican World Cup Player Miguel Layun would appear to address some of this though his YouTube showreel does suggest he favours the right.
  3. Midfielders I saw a tweet earlier that suggested that Guediora had been handed a late-call up for the African cup of nations. A pity that but with Toszer, Abdi & Munari around we should be OK for attacking midfielders. I’d quite like to see a more physical player in there for some games, as we do have a tendency to be out-muscled sometimes, someone like Jonathan Hogg but with less of a tendency to win the ball then pass it straight into touch or to an opponent. Having said that, could that be answered by bringing Battocchio in from his Italian exile?
  4. Forwards To be honest, very little change is needed other than to give Forestieri a defined role and make sure he sticks to it. I do wonder what Slav will make of Ranegie, personally I would keep him as back up but when I posted this on Twitter it appeared that most (OK everyone) disagreed. If papa Pozzo wants to lend us di Natale, I won’t complain.

The window is not a one-way street (apologies for the mixed metaphors) so with all the “hellos” there have to be some “goodbyes”

  1. Keith Andrews – A very useful championship player but obviously the bridges he burnt with Slav are irreparable, for his sake I hope he gets a club soon.
  2. Lewis McGugan – I always rated him very highly at Nottingham Forest but it’s only happened in fits and starts with him for us and with Abdi, Toszer and Munari ahead of him we can hope that the Pozzi can get a decent price for him.
  3. Diego Fabbrini We’ve all worked with people like him, excellent CV, great in the interview but hopeless in the workplace. The quick feet and thunderous shot he scored with against Granada never looked like being replicated in the hurly-burly of the Championship. Another who will do well elsewhere – sooner the better for all concerned.
  4. Lloyd Dyer Frankly Leicester sold us a bit of a pup here. Anyone who has a go at their manager in public in the way he did isn’t a team player and his performances have hardly helped redeem him. One for the “I’ll drive him to his new club” category.
  5. Sean Murray It’s make-or-break time for the local lad. Is he the new Doyley (in terms of appearances) or the new Wichelow? This season he has continued to regress and his limited pitch time has done nothing to enhance his reputation. He needs a loan to a good League 1 side who will play him regularly, and to be told that he needs to put the effort in if he wants to be a part of things at Vicarage Road.

I can’t really comment on the likes of O’Nien, Smith etc. as I just haven’t seen enough but i don’t get the feeling that any of them are going to make the big breakthrough this season.

After the Wolves game I was cold, wet and very despondent about our chances, the Cardiff game and a bit of reflection has made me think that we have the potential to do well this year, and at least finish in the play-offs (I think Derby will take one of the automatic places). We do have a good squad, but one that needs tweaking rather than wholesale changes.

Over to you Slav & Gino.


Strongest squad in the Championship?

As you will see, I have been a far from regular blogger but my post-Christmas (not New Year’s) resolution is to do this more regularly, both on Watford FC and the state of state education in England.

Anyway, back to my main point is that a constant refrain from other Watford FC fans is that “We should be doing better than this because we have the strongest squad in the Championship”. Whilst I don’t know exactly the strengths and weaknesses of the other sides in our league, I thought I would examine ours.


Of the three goalies we have none can be described as the best in the league – Gomes is a great shot stopper and can on occasions perform well on crosses. However his kicking isn’t great as he seems to get more height than distance on too many occasions. Also he has struggled on crosses this year e.g. vs Cardiff and I would like to see him command his six-yard box better.

Bond has his strengths in many of the same areas as Gomes – unfortunately he shares his weaknesses too. As for Gilmartin, great radio co-commentator, but not the answer.


For me, still a weakness within the squad. We only have one left-footed wing/full back and that is Pudil. Bags of enthusiasm and a “great engine” but woefully one-footed and questionable positional sense. Many times he has been caught upfield and the opposition has played the ball over him into space. Sannino’s major change when he took over was to play him 20 metres further back. A lesson that Slav & Daniel need to remember. Alas, on the other side Parades shares all of Pudil’s faults with few of his redeeming features – with each game he seems to regress.

Lloyd Doyley has rarely been bested by opponents and indeed I really don’t think Zaha’s career ever recovered from the time he spent in Lloyd’s pocket at Wembley – however the years do appear to have caught up with him and I fear this will be his last in the yellow shirt.

Danny Batth’s performance for Wolves reminded me of what we are missing from all of our central defenders – the ability to command the back line. Angella, Bassong, Cathcart and the (unfairly IMO) oft-derided Ekstrand are all decent players, keen to play out from the back. Hoban’s early promise seems to have been replaced by “bambi-on-ice” nervousness. All of them do have a propensity for the silly foul on the edge of the box and need to attack the ball better when crosses come in.


In Abdi & Toszer we have the two best passers of the ball in the Championship – no argument, though sometimes I wish Toszer didn’t try to be Glenn Hoddle quite so often. Munari has two levels of performance – dire (vs Wolves) or brilliant (vs Milwall). As for Murray – he seems to be heading down the Wichelow/McNamee route from “answer” to obscurity. Guediora seems highly capable and I would suggest we should look to keep him for the rest of this season. Despite the undoubted skills of all of these, we still lack the ball-winner/destroyer every successful team has. (For the record I don’t want Hogg or Eustace back) We’ll never know what Andrews did but I think we can count him out of any further consideration.

On the flanks, the situation is no clearer; Anya is best summed up by my wife’s comment from an earlier game when towards the 80 minute mark she exclaimed surprise he was still on the pitch “when he’s done nothing for the whole game”. Whilst the Lord does move in mysterious ways it doesn’t seem that he is moved to give Ilkechi consistent direction on his crossing. Dyer has been a real disappointment – surly and disruptive off the pitch and inconsistent and inconsequential on it. Forestieri is a bundle of contradictions all of his own. Perfectly capable of destroying teams by himself, equally capable of an inability to control or pass a football. Entertaining and frustrating in equal measure. Nobody, least of all him, seems to know his most effective position.


The one undoubted star who would walk into any other team in our division is, of course, Troy Deeney- he does seem determined to work at his game and improve his all-round play, but recently he has been dropping deep to see the ball. Vydra is another one who needs to make his mind up-will he stick or twist with us? Moodiness is fine in an actor or singer, less so in a centre forward. Were I the gaffer, I would be dropping him for Ighalo, a player I like more every time I see him, just keep him away from penalties. I think the least said about Fabbrini, the better.

The Head Coach

As someone who also has been cursed/blessed with a face that never looks right when smiling I actually quite like Jokanovic as a person. However I see why most of the fanbase has failed to warm to him. Whether we love him or not is probably irrelevant but the inconsistent nature of our current play must, to a degree, be down to him. I’m not convinced by the “he needs an English coach” line either – I wasn’t sorry when my old schoolmate (OK he was two years ahead of me) Nigel Gibbs didn’t come – emotion and sentimentality are not a sound basis on which to choose staff. I hope the fans and Gino Pozzo give him time and support in the transfer window, whilst reminding him  of the fact that the play-offs are a minimum for this season.

Last Bit

If you’ve read this long, I thank you. You are probably thinking how negative I’ve been, but all I have done is try to answer the question posed in the blog title and to sum up the answer is that we have some of the most talented players in the Championship when we have the ball, but we fall well short of the best when we have to defend.


As I walked along Vicarage Road yesterday after our shameful capitulation against Huddersfield I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t even disappointed or sad. In fact I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders – relieved would be the appropriate emotion. Doctors report that this is a common emotion amongst the relatives of people who die after a long illness. In many ways that is what our season has been- the patient fell into illness, interventions happened, the patient rallied but eventually the illness won. Reflecting more on this on the drive home I was reminded of the Kubler-Ross Model aka “the five stages of grief” or “DABDA” and how they matched my feelings this season:

1) Denial – “We were unlucky today”, “The ref was awful”, “We’ll be OK once Abdi is back”

2) Anger – “For ****’s sake Zola – sort it out!”, “Bloody Hell Beppe – why is Belkalem playing?”

3) Bargaining – “If we can at least score at home, I’ll try and get fit after Christmas– If we win I’ll run the marathon for charity next year”

4) Depression – “The worst display in 40 years”, “No-one in this team has any heart”

5) Acceptance– “Thank god that’s over – when are we going to the garden centre?”

However, as football fans we do at least have something the bereaved do not – the hope for next season that somehow, someway it will all be different and a Watford team united in purpose will team fine flowing, attacking football allied to a Fort Knox- like defence and carry all before them in a glorious march to the Championship title. Either that or it’s back to DABDA. An interesting summer beckons………