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03/04: Review:
February 2004:
Hate To Say I Told You So
By Mike Peter

It's a vaguely chilly night in early March and The Hives' song "Hate To Say I Told You So" is blasting out of my speakers as I write. Why am I telling you this? Well, good reader, I feel this song title rather epitomises my thoughts about various members of the Watford support. And as I'm using it as my title, it would hardly be appropriate for me not to be playing it. For those not entirely familiar with this Swedish band's lyrics, here is the chorus from the above song...

"Hate to say I told you so.
I do believe I told you so.
Now it's all out and you know."

An amazing analogy for my feelings towards "anti-Lewingtons." Of course, I wouldn't say I hated to say it. Indeed I'm taking a certain pleasure from it. However, I am not one to butcher song lyrics and I thought various other Hives titles - "A.K.A Idiot" and "Automatic Schmuck" were a bit too harsh.

So, yes. Ray Lewington is not "tactically na´ve" as so many supporters labelled him (where are they now, by the way? They seem to have disappeared). Watford have emerged from this month unbeaten and with ten shiny points. For those who have not been marvelling at it, we are currently sitting seventeenth in the table, five places away from the relegation area so many predicted we'd be diving into.

So surely anyone at all worried on January 31st can't be feeling the same after this month. I can't understand them if they do.... As Matt points out in his excellent LaTS article, for Watford to stay up "We just need to be less bad than three other teams." Despite a generally disappointing season, Watford have never been one of the three worse teams in this division at any stage.

This month has been I'm sure, for most Watford fans, a ray of sunlight. Despite my hugely pro-Ray stance and my general optimistic stance on anything, the Franchise game was the first time in a long while I really anticipated going to the game. Long may it continue.

So Watford's month started with a home game against in-form Sunderland. With Marcus Gayle injured, Watford gave Jerel Ifil (more on him later) a second start and Neil Cox, free to play again, reverted to his so called lesser position of right back (played there for Villa, Boro and Bolton...natural centre back, my arse....). Sunderland fielded Tommy Smith, who was outrageously booed by a section of the Watford faithful. Much to everyone's surprise and delight Watford went ahead in the seventh minute, thanks to Gavin Mahon and then - get this! - went two up when Cox converted a penalty. Alas it was not to be, though. Watford played a little too deep, Stewart pulled one back and the debutant Byfield equalised on eighty-six. Damn. 2-2 against one of the Division's best sides is not to be sneezed at, yet one couldn't help feel disappointed at the end.

Preston next. Another form team, no Helguson. Uh-oh. Watford played a 4-3-3, a formation that was a massive success in pre-season with first time starter Hamuer Bouazza on the left of the front three with Paul Devlin at its head. Preston, for a form team, never looked up to much and Watford, for the first time in ages, made it look reasonably easy with Bouazza, a long time youth team prospect, scoring ten minutes before half time and Devlin securing it just before the end.

The trip to Walsall was hugely important. Watford had gathered momentum from two good results and needed it to carry onto the seemingly easy fixtures of Franchise and Bradford. Yes, Walsall are hardly the most challenging of teams, but the quality of the side has little to do with the importance of the fixture. As it happens Watford won with a fifteenth minute goal from Lee Cook, in for the injured Bouazza.

The final game of the month was the home fixture against the already doomed Franchise. It says a lot about a team when you can play poorly and still beat them 4-0. However as Ollie Phillips says, goals make the game and thus we all came away pretty happy. Special mention goes to Lee Cook who had probably his best performance of the season, scoring one and setting up another of Watford's four goals. One final point - how red is Dean Lewington's hair? Does our boss have some kind of Scottish heritage? I need answers!

So...players. Two of note this month. Firstly, Jerel Ifil has come in and done a fine job, the highlight being the best-timed tackle I've seen (or at least can remember) against Preston. He's looked firm, fast and overall bloody big. His defence partnership with Sean Dyche (perhaps worth a new contract?) has leaked just two goals. They've certainly looked better than the Cox and Gayle partnership (some might say because Ifil and Dyche are actually centre backs) although it remains to be seen whether their partnership will continue when Gayle returns.

Micah Hyde has also come out of his comatose state this month. For many months a seemingly bored and impassionate player, Hyde has given some spirited performances of late. Although still not his best, it's good to see the Micah of old. The question has to be asked - is he playing for a contract? Or perhaps putting himself in the shop window (he hasn't done himself any favours over the last year or so)?

Wayne Brown has also gone out on loan again - this time to Colchester. I can't help but feel sorry for Wayne. Bought following a hugely successful loan spell and anticipating the departure of both Cox and Gayle he hasn't had a chance to play his preferred position of left centre back, only slotting in at left back. Whether he'll be at Watford next season remains to be seen.

Last month I spoke of my level of mistrust for the Russo Brothers, in that I'm scared of people who try to make football clubs into investments. So far they haven't exactly much to repair this problem having implemented a business plan that has resulted in the sacking of four members of staff, the most noteworthy being Charlie Coultham. I have had little dealing with Charlie but he is regarded as one of the Watford "characters" that made this club special. His redundancy seems to many to be another step towards a soulless corporate image. I know the Russo have invested a significant amount in the club, but one does feel it's a bit early for them to start ringing the changes.

This month has been rather quiet overall. The most significant feature of February has been the Carling Cup Final won by Middlesborough. One does have to wonder why League clubs don't put more emphasis on this. In a competition which is shunned by most of the top clubs and is generally contested by two lesser Premiership clubs, it is slightly puzzling that the League clubs don't attempt to go for the financial incentive and passport to Europe offered by the League Cup.

I'll sign off by saying this - Stan, you're welcome to "dog" in the New Forest, as long as you don't come anywhere near me....