Sunday, 30 October 2016

Not angry, just... irritated

Yesterday’s game against Hull was hugely irritating; for Watford to be so dominant and yet fail to get a shot on target is the kind of performance that drives fans mad. Most irritating of all is the thought of how good this Watford team could be, if the many obvious talents it contains could just knit together a bit better. And yet we’re seventh in the table, having kept three clean sheets in a row. I realise that it looks churlish to complain.

We’ve been here before, of course. Last December, Quique’s team were riding on the crest of a wave, scoring goals and winning matches they weren’t expected to, and it looked like the only way was up. We all know what happened next, so I’m reserving judgement for now.

In the meantime, to give vent to my frustration, here are five more things about Watford that I find irritating at the moment:

1) Lack of fixture congestion
One of the wonderful things about being in the Premier League, we’re told, is the chance to play all these exciting games against great teams. Except it isn’t, is it? Yesterday’s match was our first at Vicarage Road for 28 days, and it’s another 21 till the next one. So that’s a 49-day period with just 90 minutes of football for home fans to enjoy – 90 minutes against an opponent that packed the midfield and showed minimal attacking intent.

2) Woke up one morning, almost missed the game
It’s not exclusive to the Premier League, but the moving of kick-off times is a major irritant. Midday on a Sunday for a home game against Stoke next month? And then the away game in January against the same team moved from a bank holiday afternoon to the following evening? Others have complained far more eloquently than I can about this issue, so let’s just register it and move on.

3) The lost boys
I really miss the days when any Watford team that took the pitch included at least a couple of homegrown players, and it would be nice to think that we can roll out the “he’s one of our own” chant again one day.

I get it, of course. At the level we’re now playing at, we need greater skill and experience than any youngster produced by our Academy is likely to possess. In summer 2015, the transfer policy deliberately prioritised older players with the nous to keep us up for that first crucial season in the Premier League, and this year we’ve apparently got the oldest team in the division.

It doesn’t help that, judging by what I read about Harry Kewell’s under-23 ‘development’ squad, they would struggle to beat Wealdstone at the moment. If the aim of that set-up is for young players to learn lots of different ways of losing to clubs with inferior resources, they’re doing a great job. But it’s hard to see any of those youngsters bridging the gap to the first-team squad any time soon.

4) What’s the score?
Why don’t we get a full set of half-time scores from all four divisions (plus Scotland) any more? The other Premier League scores are read out, and maybe the Championship if we’re lucky, and that’s it. I used to hate that when it happened at away grounds (usually at clubs that considered themselves too grand to look downwards – Leeds springs to mind), and now we’re showing the same arrogance.

English football consists of four professional divisions, and Watford should celebrate that heritage, which we’ve been part of at every level in the not so distant past. The examples of clubs like Portsmouth, Bolton and Coventry show that it would be foolish to assume we’ll never find ourselves back in the lower leagues again.

Besides, I miss the chance to cheer when it’s announced that Luton are losing at half-time.

5) Z-Ca-
One tradition the club has, thankfully, maintained is the playing of the Z-Cars theme when the teams run out. Well, sort of. We get the first verse or so as the players make their way from the tunnel to the silly branded arch they have to line up in front of, and then the music abruptly switches to something modern and pompous, destroying the mood. I miss that bonkers solo in the middle (is it a clarinet?) more than I can express.

You can see the thinking. Playing Z-Cars is a sop to the fans (especially old gits like me), but it’s the sort of thing the club would prefer to keep to a minimum in the shiny modern world of the Premier League.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The story so far

Uniquely in my 46 years of supporting Watford, I’ve seen all eight games so far this season live – seven of them in person, while I watched Burnley on Sky Sports (and boy, I wish I hadn’t). So I feel as qualified as anyone to make a few observations on our season so far, as we head into the second international break.

Walter Mazzarri doesn’t like making team changes...
He really doesn’t. As far as I can work out, every single change he’s made to the starting line-up (omitting the League Cup game against Gillingham, obviously) has been enforced by an injury or a suspension, apart from those he made at West Ham. That was the first match after the transfer window closed, and he immediately selected his marquee signings; Janmaat came in for Amrabat and Pereyra for Guedioura. That aside, once you’re in the starting XI, it appears that you’re there for good.

... which is bad news for Isaac Success...
After a series of steadily longer and more impressive cameos, Success scored a fabulous first goal against Bournemouth. The clamour for him to be given the chance to show what he can do for the full 90 minutes is growing, but I suspect we may have to wait a while longer. Mazzarri has been making noises about Success needing to add defensive capabilities to his game, and what with that and the injury that’s caused him to pull out of the Nigeria squad this week, I wouldn’t put any money on him starting against Middlesbrough.

... but good news for Odion Ighalo
For what it’s worth, if he’s fit, I think Success should come in for Ighalo for the next match. We can all see that Iggy isn’t right, and hasn’t been for six months now. It’s not that he’s not trying his best, but there’s something missing, that crucial 10% that made him such a lethal striker for the first half of last season. His hold-up play is poor, every shot he takes is scuffed or misdirected (the goal at West Ham needed a deflection to go in), and he continues to fail to pass to better-placed teammates far too often.

You don’t have to be an amateur psychologist to hypothesise that this is all linked to the illness, and subsequent death, of his father. Grief affects people in different ways; in Iggy’s case, it seems to have robbed him of his spark. I’d suggest it would be better for all concerned if someone else led the line for a while, and he could try to rediscover that spark as an impact substitute.

Swings and roundabouts
This time last year, we were all worrying about how Watford were going to score enough goals to win matches, while congratulating Quique Flores on the defensive discipline he’d so quickly instilled. Then, when we did start scoring, we fretted about the fact that almost every goal was being scored by Deeney or Ighalo.

No worries on that front any more; eight games in and we’ve already had seven different scorers. We’ve scored in all but one of those games, too. What we haven’t managed is a clean sheet. In particular, our propensity to concede goals from crosses is worrying; I liked the line in the Guardian on Friday, to the effect that our wing-backs clearly haven’t got to grips with the ‘back’ part of their job description. Maybe Brice Dja Djédjé will help to remedy that, if we ever get to see him in action.

If nothing else, the gulf in approach between Flores and Mazzarri proves that the Pozzos don’t have a ‘type’ when it comes to Head Coaches. Given a choice, though, I’d opt for the Mazzarri way, as I suspect most Watford fans would. This already looks like being a lot more fun than last season was.

Whatever happened to nippy little strikers?
When it comes to signing forwards, one thing is clear: the Pozzos like ’em big. Since winning promotion we’ve signed Oularé, Success and Okaka, all of them huge, strapping blokes. (Watching Okaka’s entertaining cameo at West Ham, I was unavoidably reminded of Devon White.) The not particularly small Ighalo looks puny by comparison, and I suspect Jerome Sinclair won’t get near the first team until he beefs up a bit.

This all promises further entertainment for Watford fans, and I would love to see us field a three-man front line of Deeney, Success and Okaka, just for the looks on the opposition’s faces. Is there still a place for the small, speedy striker in the modern game? Not at Watford, on the face of it.