Scenario 1: A dramatic season. With the club attempting to return to the
First Division at the first attempt, the pressure was on Kenny Jackett to live
up to expectations raised by an encouraging end to the previous season. Lack of
resources forced him to bring in exciting young home-grown talent as the team
embarked on a huge unbeaten run which included healthy progress in two cup competitions.
Ultimately the attempt failed but the announcement of an Elton John-led takeover
and talk of new investment for next season took the edge off our disappointment.
Scenario 2: A dreadful season. With the club attempting to return to the
First Division at the first attempt, the pressure was on Kenny Jackett, who knew
that anything but promotion would be seen as failure. Lack of investment forced him
to rely on unproven, inexperienced young players as the team struggled to score
goals or play with any coherence. A cup run in the Auto Windscreen Shield is nothing to get excited about.
Ultimately it was a grim bore and the announcement of an Elton John-led
takeover and talk of new investment for next season is little compensation for those of
us who forked out for a season ticket.
The truth is, as ever, somewhere between the two extremes. The season that began
with such high hopes at Bournemouth ended with a whupping at Burnley and a finishing
place in the bottom half of the table. In the middle was a bit of excitement, a bit of
abject misery and a lot of extreme boredom and frustration.
No-one was pretending that the Second Division would be fun - anyone who relishes a
wintry trip to Rotherham really ought to seek counselling. But quite a lot
of people were expecting the class of a Watford side that included a few ex and future Premiership
players to tell. The fact that the squad was desperately thin on the ground in
several vital areas was swept away by the tide of optimism - I argued during the summer that the squad wasn't
good enough to win promotion and, as it turned out, we didn't have any resources with which to significantly
improve it. As someone who felt that we'd need to invest to gain promotion,
Graham Taylor's "what you see is what we've got" comment provided a stomach-churning moment of
It took a while for Kenny Jackett to stabilise the side and the defeats against
Millwall and Plymouth, horrible though they undoubtedly were, can be disregarded
as a result. Eventually, we settled down and became the difficult-to-beat, unlikely-to-score side
that we all grew to know and love. It's no coincidence that the most settled
area of the side was the one that delivered the goods - in defence, we were
able to build around a group of players that had no long-term injuries and no significant
out-going transfers. Kevin Miller, Robert Page, Keith Millen and Nigel Gibbs, augmented
by the likes of Steve Palmer, Darren Ward, Dominic Ludden and Paul Robinson, became
the foundation of the side.
Beyond that, it was pretty chaotic. With key players missing (Gary Porter, Craig Ramage,
David Connolly, Kevin Phillips) and others out of form or favour (Gary Penrice, Devon White, Ramage and Connolly again),
we endlessly shuffled our attacking options without ever finding a solution to the
goalscoring problem. On numerous occasions we looked completely unable to create any
chances for our forwards as our creative players let us down. And, when we did
get the ball into the box, we were frequently guilty of failing to hit the back
of the net.
There was little that Kenny Jackett could do to change the situation. With no
money to spend, the chances of bringing in new blood were not great - the signing
of Stuart Slater brought fresh impetus for a while before he was injured,
the signing of Keith Scott might've made a difference had the cash been made available.
Pessimist (or perhaps realist) that I am, there was only one stage of the season
when I felt confident of our promotion chances. We suddenly stopped searching
for a solution to the lack of goals and settled into a pattern of playing largely
destructive football, culminating in a magnificent win at Millwall. It wasn't pretty but it
played to our strengths - the better we got at it, the more attacking we were able to do. Ultimately, though, the
dividing line between winning 1-0 and losing 1-0 proved to be too thin and we came
unstuck against Bournemouth.
Kenny Jackett inherited a squad with an emphasis on defensive strength - it was a squad, after all, that
still didn't have a centre forward of any note. Injuries and loss of form
merely exaggerated that emphasis, lack of investment made it impossible to change
And, let's face it, much of the season was dreadful to watch. Skill levels aside,
the dour stalemates that filled the unbeaten run were nigh on unbearable. A visiting
team coming to Vicarage Road with any thoughts of playing attacking football
was a rarity (and a cause for celebration, since we usually beat them) and, as our
on-the-road form tailed off, the prospect of watching Watford stubbornly battling away from a
open terrace hundreds of miles from home was hardly an appetising one.
There were positive aspects, though. Darren Bazeley's injury-time equaliser
against Luton might've been a crap goal but it was an ecstatic moment; Stuart Slater
did enough to suggest that he's too good for the likes of us; the youngsters
made their debuts, with varying but encouraging degrees of success; Richard Johnson
eventually got round to trying on Andy Hessenthaler's discarded crown.
In the end, however, the season will be remembered for the only thing that
mattered - we didn't win promotion. Just as all the drab football would've been justified
by a return to the First Division, so we have every right to criticise now that we
know we'll have to endure another season's worth of Second Division life.
Ironically, that criticism should've been aimed not at Kenny Jackett but at the now-departed
owner of the football club. I've frequently said that ploughing money into the club
isn't the answer to our problems so I'm not about to suggest that we should've
been given enough cash to out-spend our rivals. But Jack Petchey failed to alleviate
the club's financial losses, so he left us in a state of suspended animation until a
buyer came along. If this was an awful season then it was Jack Petchey's awful season,
not Kenny Jackett's.