By Dave Messenger
Each August Jon Marks, a regular contributor to these hallowed pages and all round good egg, asks a few of us for our predictions for the forthcoming campaign. He neatly preserves them on a spreadsheet and as the season progresses, we occasionally re-visit them and have a good old laugh at the crapness of the various opinions and quotes. Just last week, an email came round with the spreadsheet attached. Having little recollection of what I said, I avidly scanned the details.
Quite apart from the sheer folly of predicting Wolves to win the division, I was drawn to the anomaly in my prediction for how Watford would fare. 23rd was my guess, no doubt written in the haze of the seething disillusionment I felt towards all things Watford at the time. We're also asked for our hopes for the season and here, another acidic Messenger response: "That I'm proved wrong, and this Boothroyd character turns out to be some sort of genius." Be careful what you wish for, as my old Grandpa used to say....
It's been a funny old season for me. The ill-feeling of the summer gave way to an autumn of apathy, despite quickly and memorably buying into Boothroyd's methods at Cardiff. Following the thunderous win at Sheffield, and the conversation with Matt on the way to the game, I'm still searching for that missing enthusiasm. It does show up fleetingly from time to time. The fan in me is enjoying the football being served up and still wants Watford to succeed, but I can't get away from the feeling that it's all going on around me. As winter has drawn on, off-pitch concerns still linger and I've missed more games than the last ten seasons put together, as I pick and choose instead of listening to the mantra from the top of the club and blindly following their lead. It's not "My Watford", I'm not a part of this club as I once was, I'm merely observing it.
Don't get me wrong, folks. I can live with the way I feel, especially if performances stay anywhere near the level of last Monday night.... On that evidence, it seems that Watford are getting by quite nicely without my unbridled enthusiasm. Eleven goals in three games, five wins in a row, third in the table and Sheffield United suddenly looking human and utterly catchable meant that the challenge provided by the arrival of Coventry City, on a good run themselves, was clear. Could Boothroyd keep his players' feet on the ground, stave off complacency and follow up the excellent win at Bramall Lane with another three points? More questions being asked of this Watford team, and more answers being emphatically provided.
As with the Blades romp, this was far from an easy game, despite the final score, and the teams seemed evenly matched throughout the early exchanges. Coventry certainly started brightly and it was the visitors who had the best early chance, when Ben Foster was called upon to make a super stop from Gary McSheffrey's effort. The on-loan stopper had his critics earlier in the season, but he was sharp and alert throughout this game and is developing into a fine goalkeeper. Watford replied with an effort from the omnipresent Marlon King, who shot just over the bar after some nice play from Jordan Stewart and Darius Henderson.
Chances remained at a premium for much of the half as both sides looked good on the ball without really threatening. Coventry's own on-loan keeper, Marton Fulop, livened proceedings with a comical fall under pressure from Gavin Mahon. With diving and feigning injury a hot topic around football, not to mention on this website, the Spurs keeper did himself no favours by leaping up to complain when he realised Mahon was not being spoken to by referee Kettle.
On thirty-one minutes, Fulop was beaten when Matthew Spring broke down the left. He's all right now, is Springy, and his near post cross was flicked home by Ashley Young. While it looked a relatively simple goal, Young's finish with the outside of his boot was symbolic of the confidence Watford are showing at the moment. Spring himself came closest to adding a second when he shot over the bar as Watford ended the first half well on top.
At half time, Watford replaced a subdued Anthony McNamee, with Hameur Bouazza slotting in on the left. Watford started the half positively and the game opened up for them, with first Bouazza and then Young coming within whiskers of adding a second goal. The pressure was being piled onto Coventry, and full back Andrew Whing was the first to crack as he was booked for a clumsy challenge on Mahon, which eventually led to the skipper being replaced by James Chambers, hopefully for precautionary reasons only, as with big games to come Mahon's continued good form will be needed.
After fifty-nine minutes, Watford confirmed their superiority as King forced a corner. Young slung in a perfect delivery which the second division's leading scorer, and best player in my opinion, met with a powerful header for a richly deserved second Watford goal. Coventry's reaction was to remove the footballers formally known as Don Hutchison and Dennis Wise...on this evidence, both should look for a spare peg on which to hang their boots, such was Watford's domination of the centre of the park. The yellow tide continued to flow forward and Young picked up Henderson's perceptive flick and sped clear, only to be denied by Fulop's feet. A third goal seemed inevitable, but not before Foster again excelled when a rare lapse allowed Kevin Thornton a chance. The big keeper was off his line like a shot to thwart the visitors.
The third came with twelve minutes left. Bouazza, whose loan spell at Swindon seems to have given him a sense of determination, stormed down the wing and was hauled down by Claus Jorgensen. Man of the Match Young swung in another belter of a delivery, which begged to be headed forcibly home by a big, strong centre forward. Cue Henderson, the third Watford player into double figures this season and another slice of transfer fee paid off.
Within minutes it was four... Bouazza involved again as his shot from Malky Mackay's pass was parried by Fulop and headed home by the in-form Jay DeMerit. This delighted one of our number, who had Watford in our Sunday football team's pontoon competition. DeMerit's strike took Paul to twenty-one goals and a three hundred quid cash prize.. a fifth would have meant he bust and won nothing, so when Young fed King with three minutes remaining, Paul was relieved to see Fulop save and Ady Williams block King's rebound.
Another thoroughly enjoyable game of football, another fleeting visit from my enthusiasm for the battle, six wins in a row, another four goals, sixty-one points in the bag and thanks to a goalless draw at Plymouth, Sheffield United are just nine points away. The talk in the pub was of how many more wins were required to secure a play-off berth, but for Boothroyd, another chance to look above, rather than below. "We'll chase Sheffield until we're told we can't mathematically catch them" was the quote in the Sunday papers. If the Blades weren't worried after Monday night, they ought to be now. Complacency and over confidence are being kept at arm's length so it's starting to seem that only injuries can slow the juggernaut we've suddenly become.
It's just possible that this Boothroyd character may well be a genius after all....