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02/03: Review:
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 19/12/02

Bradford City call into Vicarage Road this Saturday, they bring with them the worst away goals record in Division One. Having lost several high profile strikers, manager Nicky Law finds his squad lacking fire power. Injuries and suspensions have further depleted Nicky's selection options. However, Ashley Ward is rated a 50/50 chance to make a welcome return at the weekend. A disastrous run of seven defeats came to an end with the narrow victory over Nottingham Forest at Valley Parade. The mood in the camp is now upbeat and City will be looking for points and a steady climb away from the relegation zone. For Watford, who like Bradford are struggling on their travels, it is another must win home game.

The trip to Ipswich proved fruitless. The Hornets made a fist of it, but were outplayed and outnumbered in midfield and the home side cruised to an easy win. Tommy Smith converted a well-taken goal early in the second half to reduce the arrears but Ray Lewington's men were always chasing the game.

Onto the financial situation and the recent share issue raised over 500,000. Not as much as hoped, but at least it secures the club's future for a couple of years. In reality, the work has only just begun. The contracts of goalkeeper Espen Baardsen and injury-hit Stephen Hughes were settled earlier this week. Baardsen has been unable to make the reserve team of late and this comes as no surprise.

With Hughes a slightly different position, in pre-season Stephen looked sharp and I felt that maybe this would be his year. A persistent groin injury has kept the Wokingham born midfielder sidelined. Stephen's situation highlights the precarious nature of professional football - at 26 years old, where in today's climate does he go? Maybe out of the game altogether, hopefully not - rumour has it that he played for West Ham reserves during the week. A very promising product of the Arsenal academy, the midfield schemer looked set for a bright future with The Gunners. However the club's reliance on imported players halted his progress and unhappy with this Stephen made waves and was subseqeuntly shipped off to Everton for 3 million. Stephen would make only 11 appearances on Mersyside before a free transfer and a move to Watford as part of Gianluca Vialli's squad strenthening. Only 17 appearances for the Hornets and Hughes, although one would hope he has money, now faces the dole office. In ten years as a pro Stephen has played in a never to be repeated era, as far as earning potential goes. As a promising youngster he collected England schools, youth and u-21 honours on the way. The stats show he has in fact played less than a hundred league games and should he not shake off what must be a very frustrating injury and find a club to rebuild his ebbing carear with, he may be looking back in years to come on what might have been.


In the charts:
Beat Surrender by the Jam (for the second week)

Football League Division One
Watford 0 Manchester United 1
Sherwood, Rice, Bolton, Sims, Rostron, Callaghan, Taylor, Jackett, Barnes, Jenkins, Blissett.

Reproduced courtesy of Gazette Newspapers