Luck: as a Watford fan. I'm never quite sure about this. I've never figured out whether we are lucky, or not. Or whether we have luck, or not. Or whether there's a difference between being lucky and having luck.
Watford, in my most humble opinion, aren't a big club. We aren't the richest (by a long way), we aren't the most prestigious, and we definitely haven't won the most trophies. We aren't first or the best at anything, we aren't great in any specific areas and I think it makes sense that there aren't many internationals at Watford at the moment. But to be honest, I think I like it like this. I like it that we can battle against the big guns. I like it that other teams underestimate us at their peril. And I love it that we're punching above our weight.
Football is changing every day, and because of this, half a season is a long time. I can't remember which team the fans were from, but they were on Soccer AM one morning and they happened to be playing us that afternoon. Helen Chamberlain asked them what result they were looking for and they sheepishly looked at one another, chuckled a bit and then the plump one at the front mumbled, 'Erm, maybe we can scrape a draw'. I was watching this with my mate and when I heard those words I turned to him, trying desperately hard to contain my beaming smile and just said calmly and quietly, 'That's because we're a big club now'. Well, of course we're not a big club, and if we are ever going to be it's going to take a lot of time and effort. But if I'm going to be honest, there's nothing stopping us from getting there. Okay, our finances aren't the best, but they are definitely improving and I feel that they are going to keep doing so in the foreseeable future. Our players are improving and that is a key to being a big club: big players.
Let's have a look at the squad. I've heard that it's not got very much depth. I've heard that it lacks experience. Well, we'll see. If we're going to start at the back, then, okay, we see our first major problem. Goalkeepers aren't our strong point at the moment. I rate Ben Foster, I really do. However, as many match reports have pointed out, every game you always wonder where the mistake is going to be. Will it cost us a goal or will we get away with it this time? He will improve, there's no question. And the mistakes will get less frequent. But will it be Man United who benefit and not us?
I don't want to criticise Alec. He has now pushed up to my third favourite Hornet player (I can only judge those that I've seen and I'm still only young) and he's been such a great servant to the club. The thing is, people describe him as this great servant, which is totally correct, but that kind of sounds degrading. It is degrading him to something that he is, sure, but he is so much more than that alone. Calling someone a servant lowers their status and Alec's status is up with the best of them. I will never forget his amazing saves against Birmingham in the playoffs. I can't even remember how many there were: forty maybe, possibly fifty. And then there was his save against Sunderland in the FA Cup run a couple of years back. To be honest, if I was going to list all his amazing saves, all his important saves, all his saves that meant something, I could write a whole book about them, but maybe I'll save that for my gap year. We all know that Alec has been great, and he has been amazing for the club. But the big question is: can he still play at this level? Well, he did all right against Crewe (who to be honest looked like a lower division side) and so you never know. It's one thing playing a game at this level; it's another totally different thing playing thirty or forty. Oh well, they say life starts at forty, he's still young.
In defence we have, I truly believe, one of the strongest central defences outside the Premiership. Not only do we have the undoubted quality of Clarke Carlise, we have along with it the experience of Malky Macky (who says he can't get three promotions in a row?) and the youthful Jay Demerit, who I believe was the biggest success story of last year and has continued his fine form and terrific work rate into this season. In these three players we cover all bases in defence and it's a great position for the rest of the team to build on.
There are a number of different options for the full-backs. Lloyd Doyley has finally cemented himself into the team. For the past three years it has been plain for me to see that Lloyd has had the defensive capabilities to be a top quality full-back. However, this season he has added some attacking power on top. Okay, he's not the finished article as yet. He's not the best crosser of the ball and he makes the odd mistake but oh well, it just adds to the excitement of the situation! I know he still doesn't fill the massive gaping whole that Robbo filled (both in our hearts and on the pitch) but I bet it's a big burden for him. He's a local lad, he knows how much the fans loved Robbo, and he must know that he may be always compared to him. Fighting it out for the other position are Chambers and Stewart. Stewart is the one Aidy buy that I'm still not sure about (well, him and Sietes...). And Chambers hasn't really looked the same this season. His mistake against Luton which gave them their goal was very poor indeed. But to be honest, both are normally solid players. Most of the time they go unnoticed, just doing their job, and I reckon that's fine for a full-back.
Now onto the strong point of our squad: the midfield. I'm not really going to spend too much time on our midfield. We all know that we have quality in this area. Young and McNamee have both been incredible this season, especially McNamee who I feared was going to be lost in the obscurity of the reserves last year. But he's worked hard for Aidy and for that, he's given him chances, and chances he has happily taken.
Eagles has looked dangerous, much sharper and more dynamic than last time he was here on loan. Mahon, as ever, has been solid this season. Even his bad performances haven't been that bad and he really give us that stability in the centre, whilst the young guns are roaming up and down the wings. All these players have done fantastically; however, there are two players which I want to focus on. Matthew Spring. Like a lot of fans, I wasn't sure about him for the obvious reason. But, especially recently, he has really shown why fans have come to love him so much. Almost immediately, his style of football and no-nonsense attitude started winning over fans. And now, he scores goals! What more could you ask for? He is definitely rivalling Clarke for the 'Best Buy of the Season' award.
The next player I'm going to mention I didn't like at all at the start of the season. I didn't like the way he played, and I didn't think he would last long in a Watford shirt if I'm going to be honest. Al Bangura's transformation has been nothing short of miraculous. At the start of the season, his record was three cautions in three Watford matches. And it didn't look like it was going to change. He was lunging in for everything and being very aggressive around the pitch. I'm all for a little bit of roughness on the football pitch, especially in the middle of the park, but I felt that Bangura was going way over the top. However, in recent months I am glad to say that he has made me eat my words. He has now become a sort of midfield general. He seems to be growing by the day, which is very good seeing as he is still a wee lad. His passing and distribution his come on so much, he looks for the simple pass instead of trying to go for the extraordinary. Everything he does seems to have that little bit of class about it. And he's not lunged in for ages, which has got to be a good thing: he has learned to control his aggression.
And now upfront. Even though Ashley has been banging in the goals this year, we haven't had to rely on them. Marlon has scored a fair few but we don't have to rely on his either. And Darius has proved a few doubters among us wrong with his goals but we don't have to rely on him. And this is what's great about this season. In times gone by, we're been lucky to see two players in double figures for the season. And now, we sit here at the start of February and we already have three! And the great thing about it is that there has hardly been any time when none of them have been scoring. First it was Marlon, and then when he got injured it was Ashley. But then he got injured so Marlon took over. And then Darius started scoring. And now it seems we have them all fit and all of them want to score. Add to that the constant threat of Clarke and Matty and this may be the most prolific season in Watford's recent history. Bouazza has always flattered to deceive, but that doesn't stop my dad touting him as 'the next Thierry Henry' every time we see him warming up or any time his name is mentioned....
And so that's all the players. But we cannot forget the manager, can we? Enough has been written about him so I think I'll briefly just say that the gamble has paid off and has paid off a lot. But that's the thing with gambles: you can end up fourth from bottom, fighting for your life to stay in the division...or...you can be fourth from top, ten points clear of seventh place, fighting for your right to be playing above your weight in the Premiership with the 'big boys'.
Lucky? With luck? Or neither? Well, I'm not sure. All I'm sure about it that we're got a good squad at Vicarage Road at the moment, with a good manager and I hope it stays that way. I'm not sure if I'm lucky to be a Hornet, but I'm eternally gratefully.