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01/02: Preview: Watford
BSaD opinion
by Chris Lawton

Last season, Watford under-performed. We should have at least made the playoffs, possibly automatic promotion. This year anything other than automatic promotion will be seen as a failure. That is a tough task for any manager to cope with - even tougher for a high profile manager following on from one of the most successful club managers of all time!

The single most important thing that Vialli and the team need is time. With so many changes on and off the pitch, it is a certainty that the team will take time to get into its stride. Once the team gets up to full speed I believe they will be very effective, the question is how long it will take. I fear that too many fans will assume that if we win all our matches in August we will definitely be promoted and if we lose them all we will be relegated. The fickle nature of football fans is something that could have a serious impact on the team.

If we get off to a slow start, it is vital that the fans stay behind the team. If the football is good, and the results poor - the good results will come. If the football is poor - well, let's not face that option. I also think that the fans have to wipe from their thought process that all Watford teams that turned out under GT played perfectly - 'cos they didn't. Last season GT and the team built up an air of infallibility comparable that bestowed upon the Pope - something that might have cost us a playoff spot. This year the situation will be reversed - any mistake, however tiny and insignificant, will get magnified out of all proportion and make Vialli look like the devil. The contrast between these two perspectives could lead some, maybe many, fans to believe that the team is doomed right from the start.

I firmly believe that managers should be employed for the season and, therefore, should be given the whole season to prove their worth. If we start as slowly as Blackburn did last year, will Vialli be under pressure? I hope not 'cos Blackburn were clearly the second best team in the division last year by the time it ended. In fact I suspect our season will be very similar to Blackburn's last year. It may though take a little longer to get into our stride and therefore limit our chances of an automatic promotion spot.

As to the opposition, I think that Man City and Coventry are the main threat. Man City - because they always are, irrespective of where and when you play them. A club of that size always has the potential to win a match in style. Coventry probably have the best squad in the division and their signing of Hughes from West Brom would give them real strength in depth. Of the other clubs Brum and Wolves will probably be up there in the hunt for promotion, although I think Trev is on borrowed time and a poor start could see him ousted before Xmas.

Of the teams that got promoted, I think Millwall have the best chance of causing an upset or two. They have a good young squad, the fans and a manager who has experience of the division, even if he hasn't always been successful. Also watch out for Preston to build on last year and Pompey under Rix could be a threat - although it depends how the tragic death of their young keeper influences them.

Crewe will once again avoid relegation. Surely the bookies know they will lose money on this one? They are a good solid side and could well cause a few upsets along the way, although I don't think they will seriously challenge the upper reaches of the league. Relegation is quite open but I think Rotherham and Walsall (two of the promoted teams) might struggle and I wouldn't be too surprised if Notts Forest got dragged into a relegation dogfight with all their off-pitch problems.

Whatever happens, it will be a long season and it could go down to the last few games. All I would say is don't write Watford off until the fat lady has actually sung - rather than when she has only just been booked to appear in the first place. I think the season is going to fun and challenging. Who knows where it will end....