Gillingham are the visitors to Vicarage Road on Saturday (KO 3.OOP.M). The game takes on greater importance as The Hornets have failed so far to find the net in their opening three games. This dilemma has left Ray Lewington's men rooted at the foot of the table and facing a long hard season playing catch up. Of course, it is early days but I wouldn't like to place a bet on Watford to finish higher than Palace (they did last season) at this stage with The Hornets 12 points adrift of the league leaders.
Former Watford favourite Andy Hessenthaler has missed The Gills' opening games through injury and his team have suffered from inconsistency. Following two 0-0 draws The Gills gained an away win at Bradford. The form book, if one actually exists in this division, was thrown out as Burnley then plundered the three points on Bank Holiday Monday at Priestfield. Player manager Hessenthaler will demand commitment from his team and a tough home fixture awaits Watford.
Looking back to the away defeat at Sunderland and what was probably the worst performance I have seen from a Watford team in recent seasons. What was more concerning, and I regret to have to say it, but they did not appear to be trying too hard in the early exchanges. That takes nothing away from Mick McCarthy's men, who played through Watford with aplomb. But had I have known it was to be a lethargic Watford X1 emerging at The Stadium of Light, I would have helped myself to some of the even money available with the local bookmakers for a home win.
The Wearsiders are a most friendly lot and jokingly asked if we fancied our chances of making the play-offs in the press room. I cast my mind back to the start of last season when two early season set-backs at Leicester and Portsmouth set the standards for the campaign. City and Pompey went on to dominate the division and maybe we have encountered defeats against erstwile Premiership clubs in these opening fixtures. Sunderland certainly have the support, a new squad and a determined manager, if not the finances, to make a quick return to the top flight. West Bromwich Albion have strenghtened their playing staff and look worthy favourites to gain automatic promotion and Steve Kember's Palace do have "dark horse" credentials and the all-important early points on the board.
Taking these factors into account, the opening results may not be that disastrous come the end of the season, so it's back to the drawing board for Ray Lewington and Terry Burton for the time being.
In my work for BBC 3 Counties Sport, my trip to Sunderland was a long day incorporating a ten hour drive. For my services I receive a modest fee but had it cost £100 or more, which the travelling supporters may have shelled out - I would have been more than disappointed with the efforts of the players during the first half. The fact that the manager was required to read the riot act at the interval in order to produce a spirited if somewhat disjointed display in the second half is a major concern and I hope this lack of commitment was a one-off.
20 Years Ago
In the charts
"Gold" by Spandau Ballet
Football League Division One
QPR 1 Watford 1
Sherwood. Palmer, Sims, Franklin, Rostron. Callaghan, Jobson, Jackett, Lohman. Barnes, Reilly.
Reproduced courtesy of Gazette Newspapers