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03/04: Review:
"Finishing on a High"
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 13/05/04

WATFORD finished what has been a difficult season on a high note by beating Reading 1-0 at Vicarage Road last Saturday. The visitors held faint hopes of reaching the play-offs but needed results to go their way elsewhere. With over 3,000 travelling supporters urging them on the Royals started brightly but their fans became subdued and the message that all was not going well was passed on to the pitch. “We started slowly and got worse” was Reading’s Steve Coppell’s view.

Watford winger Lee Cook took a heavy knock and was replaced by Ashley Young and it was the talented youngster who put the Hornets ahead with a cross cum shot which streaked into the bottom right hand corner. Young continued to impress in a Watford team eager to give the home supporters something to cheer as the season drew to a close. In fact Ray Lewington’s men hit 13 shots on target against Reading’s solitary effort and this statistic emphasised the difference between the two sides on the day.

There was much speculation prior to kick-off regarding Queens Park Rangers’ interest in Lee Cook and Jack Smith and I can reveal that both are contemplating offers from Watford. With Rangers now promoted and Cook having made such a good impression in his loan spell at Loftus Road, Ian Holloway’s interest comes as no surprise. For me, the young winger is one of the brightest prospects to emerge at Watford in recent times and it would be a step in the wrong direction to allow players with the potential of Smith and Cook to leave.

More news from the negotiating table is that new contracts have been offered to Neal Ardley, Sean Dyche and veteran goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain. With the prospect of the trio putting pen to paper the Hornets will have valuable experience at hand next term. Chamberlain’s recent displays have tipped the balance and the veteran keeper will be eager to add to his mammoth appearance tally next season. Former Millwall defender Sean Dyche was informed he could leave a few months ago but regained his place due to injury and has been ultra consistent at the heart of the Watford defence, whereas Neil Ardley’s skill and versatility will also be an asset.

Midfielder Paolo Vernazza has been released and although Paolo’s full potential has not been seen at the Vic I feel, as with many others who have left in recent times, a move may be a good thing for the former Arsenal man. Micah Hyde - the top earner at Vicarage Road - looks set to leave with Crystal Palace the most interested club at the moment. I hear Ian Dowie is a big fan and Hyde may well fit in to the Eagles style of play. Watford cannot match the wages of several interested parties but have left the door open for Micah to discuss terms on a reduced contract.

Watford have also released youngsters Sam Swonnell and Elliott Godfrey, with the financial situation at Vicarage Road playing its part here. In better times the two academy products may have been allowed more time to develop. Reserve team manager Nigel Gibbs informed me that the players are exemplary professionals and our good wishes go out to them in their pursuit to find another suitable club.

Next week I will be speaking to Watford’s manager Ray Lewington and hearing his thoughts on this season. On Sunday I will be donning with my boots along with Steve Terry and Luther Blissett as a Watford Old Boys team takes on St Albans Old Boys. The match is at St Albans City and kicks off at 2pm.

20 years ago:

In the charts:
The Reflex, Duran Duran

Division One:
Leicester City 4 Watford 1
Sherwood, Bardsley, Palmer, Sims, Rostron, Callaghan, Taylor, Jackett, Porter, Barnes, Johnston Scorer: Rostron
Attendance: 13,295

Reproduced courtesy of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette