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04/05: Review:
October 2004:
Why can't you be rubbish, Watford?
By Mike Peter

It is becoming increasingly difficult to write this column. In my attempts to provide a level-headed, balanced analysis of the past month, I never seem to see the bad points, only the good. I am failing in every respect.

Are there bad points, though? Not winning until the final days of the month is not particularly stunning, but we are still far higher than we expected to be. And it's not as if the games have been poor either.

With one exception, I suppose. Following encounters with table-topping Wigan and Reading, the trip to Crewe seemed like an opportunity to get back into the rich vein of form we had previously inhabited. What can I say? We were crap. Football is that way sometimes.

Derby and Ipswich were very different games, although they both finished 2-2. You see, there are certain rules when you sign up to Watford fandom. These include - if Watford get a lead early in an away game, they will always lose it. See Derby, where two Helguson goals within the first fourteen minutes were cancelled out by goals by an ex-Watford player and a very late goal respectively. Another rule is Watford never, ever, get anything out of Ipswich. So when Ipswich went two-nil up at Vicarage Road, we all knew what the end result was. Except we didn't. Yes, Watford pulled back from a two-goal lead against Ipswich. Football is rarely that way.

Sandwiched in between was Sunderland's visit - the fixture robot was especially friendly in scheduling it on a Tuesday night. Ho hum. Vaguely interesting in the fact that Watford let their ninth minute lead slip pretty quickly, as opposed to in the second half when we've just convinced ourselves we got the game in the bag.

Another game against red and white stripes - this time Sheffield United in the League Cup. As expected from a tie in this competition between teams in the same division, it was rather dull - but Watford came out on top in penalties, which are rather fun.

And finally there was Forest and our only league win. Another two goals from Heidar destroyed Joe Kinnear's team. Forest have talented players, yet they are lying in the relegation zone - and people wanted this man to replace Ray Lewington?

So only one league win this month, a rather large contrast from previous months. Danny Webber's loss of form has had an effect; after all, he masterminded so many of the summer's victories, Plymouth being the most obvious example. His return to the "striker who almost scores" persona that he had all last season is worrying, especially when he know how much he is capable of.

The loss of Brynjar Gunnarsson for most of the month was a blow as well. It's really quite hard to believe that both Stoke and Forest didn't want him. And whilst Gavin Mahon was still there, the absence of the total domination of the midfield we get when the pair are together was missed.

These are not criticisms, just explanations for the change from an excellent campaign into a mere very good one. After all, how could I complain when we have progressed so much from last season? Lest we forget, we lost to both Derby and Ipswich in the corresponding fixtures last season. Indeed, that's been one of the most positive elements of this season so far, the way we've changed fixtures we generally lose into draws, typical draws into wins.

Neal Ardley though, surely a dead cert for Player of the Season already. I've said it before so I won't go on about it but he really is quite remarkable. So many assists! How many times have we seen him land a ball on Heidar Helguson's head this month? H too has been excellent this month, which is a considerable relief with Webber's loss of form. Previous to this month, he had been showing the signs of his missed pre-season, looking sluggish and off his game. What a relief it is to have back to his old self.

Stepping away from the first team, seventeen-year-old Toumani Diagouraga has been awarded a contract. Having seen him play in the reserves (where he is an ever-present - not bad for someone of his age) a month ago, comparisons with Viera aren't so far from the truth. He's big, strong and an excellent passer of the ball - all the signs point to a very exciting young player. The old cliché is that heaping too much expectation on a player destroys him, and there's truth in that - although personally I thought chronic asthma was the cause of Anthony McNamee's downfall.

He will be joined in the stiffs' central midfield by Jamie Hand, who has returned from his loan at Oxford - where he scored two goals. It's often the case that a young player will go on loan to gain experience and never get back into the first team. Indeed the loan often seems like an attempt to get rid of the player. I hope that doesn't happen to Hand, who I rate highly. Of course, our considerable lack of central midfielders means that this is not an option. With Gunnarsson and Mahon in such fine form and Blizzard ahead of him, Jamie may have a struggle getting into the team, though. Staying the stiffs, Jason Norville got injured on trial of Rotherham - they really must be desperate if they think he's the solution to their (already doomed?) relegation battle.

After the departure of Terry Burton last month, it was quite a co-incidence to have Kevin Hitchcock leaving so soon afterwards. It's hard to tell how much good a goalkeeping coach does, but I was quite sad to see him go - I rather liked our management team of the two decent members of the Vialli staff, a Watford legend and all round nice chap Burton. All gone now. Still it does mean that we won't (necessarily) lose another legend - Alec, when he inevitably retires at the end of the season. He temporarily replaces the Blackburn-bound Hitchcock and I'm sure all Watford fans hope it becomes permanent.

And so ends October - not fantastic points-wise, still entertaining. Here's to another unbalanced report this time next month!