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04/05: Review:
December 2004:
Oh dear
By Mike Peter

I'm a fairly positive chap, by and large. A poor run of results will not upset me unduly - generally, one can find plenty of positives in these sorts of situations, and indeed I've found them in columns of old.

Still, this month has been damn hard. Which is why it's only rearing its ugly head halfway through January. Either that or I'm lazy. You decide.

We are far from the hazy days of October, when we were close to winning games, even if we did draw them. Over and over again. Or indeed November, where the statistics - undefeated in thirteen - could still be used to our credit. No, this has been worse. No-one, not even me, wants to think of the horribly depressing defeats at Reading and Coventry. It's hard to define what's gone wrong too, although obviously I'm going to have a go.

In my mind Watford have, for a long time, had two flaws. We are not a particularly large side, and nor do we have killer instinct in front of goal.

Since the purple patch of August and September, the confidence and belief that has been used to overcome these problems has been slowly sapping away. And we are seeing the results - in the defeat at home to Stoke, where an exhausted team was continually muscled out of anything. Or in the draw with Cardiff, which actually had a rather good second half. Long spells of attacking football, yet never seeming to get the ball in that box. One goal in the whole month - in a not-so-bad-actually draw with Wolves - is the evidence of that hole in our play.

As we've seen earlier in the season, or in the cup, we can easily overcome these problems. And whilst some will no doubt point out the decreasing number of points between us and the relegation zone, a few wins will get us up with the play-off challengers again. It's a tight division, you see. Most games can go any way. Recently we've been losing ours, all we need to do is to work out how to win again. Quite how this will be achieved is purely in the minds of the players.

One would hope that the returning Bouazza and Webber will help in the striking department. Whilst they are not necessarily the answer - Webber didn't score in the month preceding his injury - their pace and skill will hopefully mix up the play that has become slightly predictable.

Richard Lee is another we will want back, although we will have to wait. His loss will not be so telling - Wolves loanee Paul Jones is a decent replacement - but the injury will be a crushing blow to a young player who has been such a revelation this term. Shortly before his injury - a broken cheekbone sustained at Coventry - he was awarded a new contract, testament to his performances.

December hasn't been greatly improved by the Neal Ardley saga. Quite what possessed Cardiff to offer a mere 50,000 - but only if they stayed up, of course, and they are currently lying 21st - for a player with the most assists in the division is beyond me. But what really sticks in the throat is their contact with Ardley before the offer was made, which, considering the wage packet, rather inevitably turned his head. Many clubs have been punished for "tapping up" players and I see no reason why Cardiff shouldn't be held responsible. After all, they have effectively removed one of their main rivals' biggest assets (one suspects it was that more a "messed up head" than his back problem that's kept him out for the festive period) for several games.

Indeed, we've had to use up a wage in replacing Ardley. And to make matters worse, Johnnie Jackson, who's arrived from Spurs, has done zip since his arrival. Accusations of being the worst Watford loanee veer are somewhat off the mark, but Jackson's reluctance to tackle and tendency to drift out of games has won him little support.

So, not a great month. Do not allow gloom to set in though, for this Watford side is quite capable of playing well and challenging for the play-offs. Whether they will, though, I just don't know.