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05/06: Review:
Early season:
By Mike Peter

I'm a lazy sod, by and large.

Work to do...why not do it tomorrow? Food to make...I could do with losing a few pounds. Breathing...well, it's not that vital, is it? Which is why an article I originally meant to write at the end of the summer has emerged now.

But I'll try to justify it. Because it is now that we can review Adrian Boothroyd's reign as Watford manager fairly. After the bluster and poisonous point-scoring of the summer. After the opening defeat. After that crazy run of form when we always seemed to win 3-1. After the late-September loss of form. Now.

I don't think any of us expected us to be here. Right now, Watford are genuinely third in the table, four points clear of fourth and well on our way to the forty-five point mark that equals safety around these parts. Yes, I know! Adrian Boothroyd, a huge risk, has proved his worth.

There has been some nasty point-scoring as our league position rocketed, which ignores all the arguments that were made during the summer, as if the criticism was somehow unjustified. To massively overhaul the squad, to lose virtually all its experienced players, to put in charge a manager with no league experience was a huge gamble. It worked, yes, but it so easily couldn't have. It's a credit to Adrian Boothroyd's talents that it did.

Indeed, to look at the squad two days before the start of the season was to see a side where Jay Demerit, a man with not even a season's experience, would be marshalling the defence, where Al Bangura was the third-choice midfielder and Marlon King was the sole striker in the squad. Whilst Adrian Boothroyd's skills are obvious, one doubts he'd have been able to achieve the heights he has with that team.

His signings up to that point have been hit and miss. Ben Foster still seems to be something of a Jekyll and Hyde character. Capable of incredible dexterity, his distribution also adds a lot to our attacking play. Yet he also makes the odd howler. You imagine that more would have made about both Boothroyd's preference for Foster over Richard Lee and Martin Devaney's ridiculous arrival and departure if it weren't for our current position.

The two new left backs both need to prove themselves. Jordan Stewart has put in some unspectacular performances, but is currently out of the side, with the right-footed James Chambers in his position. Sietes has been an utter disaster thus far. One can't help but wonder whether Jack Smith would have been a better, and less expensive, option. Adam Griffiths is not worthy of mention: he goes in January.

The signings since then, however, have all been hugely significant, and had they arrived earlier in the pre-season summer would have been far nicer. Clarke Carlisle and Malkay Mackay provide the basis for any successful side - a strong defence. Indeed, alongside Demerit they form our best defence since the days of Page and Palmer over six years ago. Carlisle in particular looks like an inspired signing: tall, strong and fast.

Many comparisons have been made between Matthew Spring and Brynjar Gunnarsson, with Spring being viewed as a replacement for the Icelander. Whilst there was never any chance of the two being at the club together, it is still an odd comparison as they are entirely different players. Whilst Boris was tough and ran the midfield, Spring is less noticeable but scores more goals.

Marlon King belongs to the previous batch of signings, but is noteworthy for his success. The riskiest of Boothroyd's signings, he could so easily have been what he was at Forest - slow, sluggish, useless. But instead he has proved to be a dangerous proposition and one that we rely on hugely. Darius Henderson - whose 450,000 fee provoked a double page spread in a Gillingham fanzine saying simply "How much?!" - is nonetheless an important part of the side. He can perhaps be best viewed in the Allan Smart role, as, like the brutal Scotsman, he brings coherence to our attack.

The other player worthy of mention under the Boothroyd revolution is, of course, Ashey Young. Young perhaps epitomises this season. Talented, but in no way the finished article last term, he has flourished under Boothroyd. With nine goals and numerous assists, he has become the star player in Watford's side.

It is a side, then, that like Lewington's before it, is based on key players. The squad still lacks strength in depth. So thin is it, that Watford's Reserve and Under-18 sides are now virtually one and the same, which explains why just one man - Gary Smith - was hired to fill both Nigel Gibbs' shoes and take David Hockaday's place at the head of the Academy. Aside from the defence, Watford have little behind their first choice selections. Whilst blooding youth has been a key component of Boothroyd's reign, I doubt whether either Al Bangura or Toumani Diagouraga would be able to maintain our position should Mahon or Spring fall to injury, particularly during the harsh winter campaign. The return of Dominic Blizzard is thus vital for the next few months.

Up front, Junior's documentation problems and Hameur Bouazza's continuing lack of form are an unfortunate combination, one that could be solved by signing another striker in January, if we weren't spending all our money on Marlon King. A loan signing - one better than Trevor Benjamin, I might add - would thus be an extremely useful, if we are to avoid the sort of bad form that was brought on by injuries to Marlon King and Darius Henderson a month ago.

But, despite its fragility, it's a side that has been galvanised by one man alone. There are many superlatives I could write about Adrian Boothroyd, but there are few that could sum him up. I'm sure most of you reading this are simply jolly happy to be where we are right now. Of course, it's early days yet, but I am happy that his pre-season bluster has amounted to actual football achievement.

The board, it seems, have had their bacon saved. Ah, the board! Yes, they appointed Boothroyd and one could claim they were right to do so, but that ignores the fact that 99% of the time this sort of act fails. They gambled, and miraculously won. They now bask in Boothroyd's reflected glory, whilst all the toxic back-biting from the summer can be cheerily swept under the carpet with the knowledge that footballing success hides all. Whilst the forums have done a fair bit towards breaching the gap made between supporters and club, it easy to imagine that we'd still be raging about the board's decisions and spin if we were sitting in the relegation zone.

So what next for Adrian Boothroyd and Watford? Much relies on the fitness of key players - Ashley Young, Marlon King, Gavin Mahon, Darius Henderson, Clarke Carlisle - and that's a given. For all the talk of inability to motivate his side, one of main reasons for Lewington's Watford's loss of form and his consequent departure was injury to key players. And whilst a relegation struggle is now probably out of the question, if we want to be where we are in May, a fit squad is a necessity. If that happens, who knows?

On fragile ground we lie, but, in truth, I already dream of Cardiff.