The Worst Watford Manager
By Matt Rowson
The worst Watford manager in living memory? A contentious one, that. Plenty have been poor, certainly, and even GT had his ups and downs. But the worst, the very worst ?
Bassett would obviously be a candidate, even now. On something of a hiding to nothing having taken over from GT the first time round, Bassett did himself no favours by dismantling a top-half side, throwing a bit of gravel into the style of play and making some truly shocking signings.
Perryman wasn't great either, in all honesty. Some of the most stupefying football I've ever seen... but the signings of Hessenthaler and Furlong amongst others, and the early blooding of Johnson and Dyer probably spare him this unwelcome crown.
It comes down to definitions, really. Criteria. Perryman probably invoked the most boredom, Bassett the most anger. Colin Lee probably presided over the worst football of the last twenty-five years though, albeit only for thirty-one games. And the players he signed... my word. Joe McLaughlin. Mark Gavin. Andy Kennedy, possibly the most disgraceful excuse for a footballer to wear a yellow shirt. Five wins in total, and seven straight home defeats to kick off the 1990-91 season including a memorably dreadful 1-0 capitulation to a shocking Hull side destined to finish bottom in front of a dwindling sub-6500 crowd.
Even Lee had his plusses, however... the entertaining distraction that was Keith Dublin was a Lee signing, and Lee also gave a debut to Darren Bazeley, a player he signed for the second time for his current charges at the start of the season.
Lee still looks pretty secure at the Bescot, with a recent web poll reflecting a majority of those polled as being at least cautiously behind Lee one year into his reign. This support will begin to wither, however, if the Saddlers fail to turn around a grim recent run with the club poised precariously above the relegation zone and fitful signs of life emerging from below. Two wins in the last twelve, both of these by one goal to nil, and only five goals in nine games since the turn of the year suggest a side low on confidence... and reports complaining of a narrow, predictable, pedestrian style of play add to the picture.
The Saddlers have a very small squad, and injuries to key players, particularly in midfield, has forced Lee to bring in players this week, with one new signing confirmed and another pending at the time of writing. Nor is the formation clear, with Lee having played both 4-4-2 and three at the back this season.
Jimmy Walker will be in goal for the Saddlers, apparently in nervous, slippery form of late by his own high standards but still widely preferred to his deputy Gavin Ward.
At the back, Darren Bazeley is now a full-back again having briefly reprised his right-winger role whilst at Wolves... he got a bit of a roasting from Peter Ndlovu in the Cup collapse at Bramall Lane at the weekend, and won't remember his first encounter with Anthony McNamee too fondly. On the left, Spaniard Zigor Aranalde has been the target of the boo-boys, with youngster Mark Wright frequently suggested as an alternative.
New Zealand international Danny Hay, signed from Leeds in the summer, is a key man in the centre, strong in the air and a good reader of the game. Matt Carbon played alongside him on Saturday but picked up a hamstring injury and is struggling to be fit for our encounter. Ian Roper is the man most likely to replace him, himself returning to match fitness after injury, with former York City man Tony Barras another possibility.
In midfield, already limited options have been further restricted by injury this week... warhorse Martyn O'Connor damaged knee ligaments at Bramall Lane and will be out for a while, Fitzroy Simpson, not terribly impressive in any case since he was awarded a permanent contract, also hurt his knee at the weekend (such silky footballers, Warnock's lot) and Danny Sonner, dismissed at Vicarage Road, is struggling with an achilles injury.
Carl Robinson adds a new option to the armoury, the former Wolves man having ceded fetching-and-carrying responsibilities at Fratton Park to Tim Sherwood and signed on loan for the rest of the season. He will probably partner Steve Corica, a favourite of Lee's who he has worked with at Leicester and Wolves. Darren Wrack will probably play on the right, with Pedro Matias, whose lack of pace is cited as a bit restrictive, an option on the left.
Walsall lack pace up front, where Portuguese Jorge Leitão has been the target man for a while but has unhelpfully been steered out to the right by Lee in recent games. Brazilian Junior has been his partner, whose one-dimensional, one-footed trickery produces six or seven groans for each productive piece of skill. Australian David Zdrilic and youngster Gary Birch are further options, rumoured target Mark Robins signed on loan for Bristol City this week.
This is the sort of fixture that will make the difference between us making the play-offs and not, and is hence in its own way every bit as important as last Saturday's excitement. It's a game we can win, although Lee and Walsall, probably boosted by new signings, won't make life easy.
Lee once again finds himself managing a small squad with limited resources. You kind of have to make allowances for that in judging his performance. It's not as if he made a sow's ear out of a silk purse, after all...that takes a special kind of incompetence.