What sort of manager?
By Dave Messenger
Last week, while filling in a questionnaire about Watford for a Sheffield Wednesday website, I was asked what sort of manager Aidy Boothroyd was, as the questioner admitted he knew little about our new manager. My first thought was simple...we're only just finding out ourselves! From what we've learnt so far, he's shown himself to be charismatic, bullish and he has the total support and the trust of his players, without which no manager can succeed. Crucially, he's also won over the majority of fans. Aidy Boothroyd has a future in football management, that's for certain, and hopefully, given time and proper support from our board of directors, he just might take us places.
You find out so much more about people when the chips are down. Six games without a win, deteriorating performances and a lack of options left us sliding down the table and seeing the first warning signs of another season milling around in the wrong half of the table. For those of us who remain far from convinced that we're suddenly a potential play-off team, this is the moment for Boothroyd to show what he's made of. In the pub before the game, our group mused that a trip to Portman Road could be just what the doctor ordered. Struggling after having lost their best three players to the Premiership (still not premier, definitely still not a ship), Joe Royle's team are not having a good time of it. If the Watford mini-slump was going to be halted, this was as good a place as any.
And we learned a bit more about Aidy when we heard the team. On the face of it, leaving Malky Mackay out against a team he has a habit of scoring against was a bold move. Jay DeMerit was the beneficiary of the decision, which showed once more that Aidy Boothroyd is not afraid of a tough decision now and again. Elsewhere, the team was the same as that which struggled at Sheffield, with Darius Henderson fit enough to lead the line. The big news was in the opposition ranks as a late change saw eighteen year-old Shane Supple in goal and only four subs named by Royle. It seems we're not the only team with a thin squad after all.
From the early exchanges, it was easy to see Ipswich's problems. Last season, Darren Bent's pace pulverised us time and again. Now the fleet-footed striker has gone to Charlton, a fact that didn't seem to stop the home side trying to find him with some hopeful punts over the top. That was never going to trouble the excellent Clarke Carlisle unduly, while the recalled DeMerit recovered from a shaky first ten minutes or so to put Nicky Forster neatly into his pocket as the game developed into some sort of pattern, with Ipswich over hitting passes and Watford trying to get their wingers going.
It took nearly twenty minutes for either side to fashion a decent chance, and it was Watford who started to make the running. Firstly, Marlon King headed tamely at Supple from an Ashley Young free kick, then the on-loan striker blasted over the bar when well placed after some neat work from the bullish Henderson. Not so much as clear cut chances but after the disjointed nature of the last few games, it was good to see the front players linking well, with Henderson in particular giving the Ipswich back-line a fair old buffeting.
Despite this, the game was still a mostly scrappy affair but as the half went on, Watford began to grow in confidence as it became clear that we offered the greater threat, though clearcut chances still didn't come as we looked conscious of our winless run which led to some fitful play. Ipswich, though, were stinking the place out and could only muster a scuffed effort from the leaden-footed Adam Proudlock while home defenders blocked a series of Watford moves for corners as the half drew to a close. From one of these flag kicks, Matthew Spring had a shot excellently saved by Supple and Paul Devlin put the rebound wide, though an offside flag spared the winger's blushes. More good link-up play between Ashley Young and Henderson sent King scampering towards goal but his shot was blocked for a corner.
At half-time, the talk in the stands was all about this being the worst Ipswich side we had seen in a long time and expectations of another away win grew, if only we could raise our game slightly. As the second half began, further confirmation of Boothroyd's growing tactical acumen came as he clearly shared the fans' view that Ipswich were there for the taking. He decided to go for the jugular and altered our shape by pushing Young alongside Henderson and King in a 4-3-3. A bold move away from home and one which would pay dividends as we took the game to Ipswich straight away, a nice move between Gavin Mahon, Lloyd Doyley and Spring led to the former Luton man shooting narrowly wide.
Watford survived a scare when neither DeMerit or Ben Foster dealt with a long ball and for a moment, Proudlock looked as if he might punish the mistake. Happily, Foster got to the bouncing ball first to avert the danger. This was a much more secure display from the on-loan stopper. He's going to make mistakes along the way, all young goalkeepers do, but he rightly remains first choice while he can set up attacks and one such throw to Doyley led to Watford taking the lead. The excellent right-back fed Devlin who took on his man and threw a peach of a cross to the far post, where King met the ball with a header that Supple did superbly to turn onto the bar. The ball bounced into the area and Young was on hand to head into the unguarded net for a deserved lead.
If we'd been marginally the better team before the goal, we now really sparked into life as the confidence grew and we saw some of the vibrant attacking that characterised our early season run of wins reappear. Young and King led their markers a merry dance and the only surprise from the rest of the game was that Watford didn't add to their goal. It wasn't for the want of trying as Henderson came to the fore again, heading a Doyley cross onto the post and forcing another good stop from Supple after being set up by a King knockdown from another Devlin cross. One of the factors in our recent poor form was the midfield being off the pace and while Devlin struggled in the first half, a flow of crosses after the break confirmed that he's found the will to take players on again, and this was his best forty-five in some weeks. In the centre of the park, Mahon and Spring dominated without being at their very best, though Spring seemed to be on a mission to tempt Andy D'Urso to use his red card, which led to his replacement by Al Bangura.
Ipswich threw the dice by bringing on two strikers, one of whom was the much-vaunted former Watford target Sam Parkin. On this showing, he looked lumpy and immobile and his only contribution was a theatrical tumble under half a challenge from Carlisle, which referee D'Urso rightly turned away. From comparison to how well big Darius had led the line, we seem to have had a lucky escape. Meanwhile, at the other end, we continued to make chances and D'Urso denied DeMerit a second strike in successive games at Portman Road when he headed home a Young free-kick. There didn't seem much wrong with the leap and the American defender could feel hard done by. Shortly afterwards goalscorer Young, on stellar form once again, ran at Ipswich for the umpteenth time and teed up Mahon who blazed over, but again full marks for the movement off the ball to create the shooting opportunity and full marks to Young, by now being greeted with a lusty chant of "We've got Ashley Young" by the travelling fans upon his every touch.
Ipswich's sporadic breaks were dealt with comfortably by the back four as Watford closed the game by continuing to slice through the home team on the break and a slightly more fit Henderson might have got closer to a rebound off the keeper from a King shot and could also have connected to a low King cross, but with both players looking sharper in this one, you feel the goals are coming. King, in particular, looked back to full fitness as time and again he stretched the home rearguard. Just before the end, Malky Mackay replaced a visibly shattered Henderson and went straight up front. Bored and no doubt frustrated, the home fans didn't even bother to boo the former Norwich man and the final whistle blew.
A good, competent display which got better as it went on, and a thoroughly deserved victory to boot. A week is a long time in football and this win banished all memories of last Saturday's toils, and the stink-fest that was the game at Hillsborough. This one will keep everyone happy... those of us who still think mid-table is a perfectly suitable target will have seen enough to convince us that the bad run is over and we can now build another unbeaten run, while those deluded enough to think the play-offs are a given will also, no doubt, have plenty of ammunition for mailing list and messageboard bluster. For me, I'm just happy to have seen more signs that our man at the top has what it takes. It's taken time for Aidy Boothroyd to win me over, but I'm starting to think I've given him a hard time because he's only just older than me rather than anything else. The evidence in front of me on the pitch says that things are progressing quite nicely, thank you. If we can just sort out the patchy home form, I might even start singing his name....