Main Menu
What's New
04/05: Review:
August 2004:
By Mike Peter

"The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score."
Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

Ah, Nick Hornby, whose quotes are the fallback of every lazy football journalist. And whilst the quote is there because I really couldn't think of any other way to start this article, it is worth talking about for a moment or two. It is remarkably perceptive - you only have to listen to 606 of a Saturday evening to realise that. Fans of all twenty Premiership clubs complaining, and they can't have all lost. A month ago this was also my theme - making me especially lazy - as I talked of how we'd all return to our cynical selves after the summer.

This, in retrospect, is not entirely true (so I'm also a bad football journalist, as well as lazy one). Football is much to do with confidence and form. In August neither have been established and thus results are somewhat unpredictable. Who would have predicted Watford to have finished this month with nine points? Having beaten a team relegated from the Premiership and two promoted teams running on momentum, no less. I certainly didn't.

Seriously, though, when was the last time we scored three goals in two different games within a month? Forget that, when was the last time we scored three goals? And the goals are important, I imagine that this article wouldn't be so gushingly happy if we had beaten QPR and Plymouth 1-0. Danny Webber has much to do with this, chalking up five out of our nine goals this month. And this is the loanee style Webber too, the one that destroyed Coventry two years ago. No longer in the shadow of Jimmy Davis and a series of awful injuries, he looks simply magnificent. So often is he beating offside traps and his now regular one-on-ones with various terrified keepers have suddenly made us look very dangerous indeed. His contribution has been duly noted in the BSaD Player of the Month poll, although the Football League didn't agree, giving Player of the Month to two-goal Ade Akinbiyi as opposed to the League's top scorer.

But to credit this wonderful month solely to Danny Webber would be an injustice. Leicester, Plymouth and QPR have all been solid team performances. Not for the whole of it, mind you. Plymouth ripped us apart for thirty minutes before we clawed ourselves back into the game. Such a sudden change too, as we made the once formidable looking Plymouth into a very ordinary side. Paul Devlin is worthy of note here, as in the second half of this game he actually ran at people and put in some crosses. Knowing he is capable of this, it is frustrating to see him not do it more often.

QPR was different, though, as we ripped them apart for ninety minutes. You forget how wonderful these games are, just seeing your team dominate, jumping out of your seat every couple of seconds. It's what makes football a beautiful game, not for QPR in this case though....

The QPR game was also notable for the debut of James Chambers, the latest player to be brought in to solve what Ray confusingly sees as our right back problem (for my mind, behind the striker position, it's the strongest area of our team). Currently, Watford have three proper right backs - Lloyd Doyley, Jack Smith and Ben Herd - with Neil Cox, Jermaine Darlington and Neal Ardley able to cover. So although the (now departed) West Brom player was not a necessity, he was most definitely a luxury. A strong, fast and competitive defender, he was also ready to throw himself into the attack. So impressive was he that his £250,000 price tag looks very tempting, even if it is way beyond the club's budget. Oh well.

We did actually lose twice. In retrospect we should be more upset at letting a point slip away at Preston on the opening day, who have been very ordinary since then. It's something we did a lot last season and I would have undoubtedly dwelt on it more if it wasn't the fact that we bounced back from both defeats so positively. Last season, a defeat to Burnley at home would have been crushing, this season less so as Steve Cotterill appears to have got them organised well. Our inability to get anything past them was a bit frustrating, but few teams will play as defensively as Burnley this season so I'll move on.

If anyone is still anything but convinced by our manager, they should look to the Leicester game. So many times in the past we would have lost this game, to come away with three points is nothing short of outstanding. This was a perfect example of the "harder to beat" strategy that Ray has been developing in the summer. It will make a massive difference to our season if we can pick up points in difficult games, especially away - where our form was rather ropey last season. It's an old cliché but if this new, stronger Watford can make Vicarage Road a fortress, survival will be relatively easy.

Credit should go at this point to Brynjar Gunnarsson. It cannot have escaped some fans' minds that we signed a player rejected by two other Division Two clubs. Not only that but Gunnarsson came with reports of being a "midfield battler". Already having one, it seemed we had no creative outlet. Yet Gunnarsson, and - to be fair - Gavin Mahon, have filled the void left by Micah Hyde quite adequately. Not only that but he is matching last year's Player of the Season for yards covered per match, an incredible feat in itself. Last season Watford's midfield frequently was found wanting, and to see two players with huge work rates is really rather encouraging, especially with winter only just around the corner.

The awful display against Cambridge could have been predicted many months ago. It always puzzles me that Division Two clubs don't take the Carling Cup more seriously, for the simple reason that the Premiership clubs always play weakened sides in it. Lest we forget, the League Cup offers a route to Europe and is considerably easier to win than its sister competition. Anyway, we're in the hat for the next round - thanks solely to Andy Ferrell, who looks very promising, although he's only actually played ten minutes.

I spoke earlier of being harder to beat, much will depend on Neil Cox. With Marcus Gayle's injury woes continuing for the considerable future, Cox will surely be part of Watford's central defence virtually by default. However some will question the decision to award him with a new, two-year contract. Cox did not impress last season, having a distinctly poor campaign and, despite giving up the captaincy to focus on footballing matters, he has still looked shaky in the new term. Cox will also be thirty-five by the end of this new contract, meaning he is presumably hoping to end his career at Watford. He will also be one of the largest earners at the club.

Whatever his flaws may be though, the situation without Cox would be precarious - with Gayle seemingly permanently injured and Demerit lacking experienced, we would be left with only one senior central defender at the club in form of Sean Dyche. Still, even if Cox has been given this contract simply because he is here and fit, we can be heartened by the fact that he is capable of playing far better than he is at the moment.

Strength in depth is still a concern, and the signings of triallists Omari Coleman and Jay Demerit/DeMerit (take your pick) have helped matter somewhat. Demerit in particular fills a considerable void in the central defence. Making his debut against Cambridge, Demerit looks like a natural and possesses an incredible sliding tackle. Coleman is yet to appear, but becomes the seventh in Watford's rather large striking department.

Along the same lines, one would hope that Jamie Hand has a twenty-four hour return clause written into his loan to Oxford, being our third choice central midfielder (or so I presume). But injury worries aside, a spell at Oxford should do Hand good, mainly because they're in Division Four which means he can kick people a lot and get away with it. It's also interesting to read how Hand demands to know why he isn't in the team all the time - which either shows a healthy amount of determination or a overblown confidence in his own abilities. Your choice.

All in all, strength in depth is a bridge we'll cross when we come to it. This has been an enjoyable month, the best for a long time. It could have also been bloody difficult, and it's a credit to the team that they've done so well. And whilst it may be naive to predict that this sort of form will continue all season, we also should realise how close this league is. Who knows what the next nine months will bring? Football, after all, is anything but predictable.