Sunday, 18 December 2016

Choice remarks

Back in July, I wrote an excitable post about the number and range of striking options available to Walter Mazzarri as he took charge of his new team. Given that Stefano Okaka’s brace against Everton are the only goals scored by a Watford striker since Troy notched up his 99th goal against Bournemouth on October 1st, it seems like a good time to revisit that list. Where did it all go wrong?

Troy Deeney
He will deny it, of course, but it’s hard not to conclude that the pressure of being on 99 Watford goals is getting to Troy. In every game since Bournemouth he’s had chances to reach 100, but he’s muffed them all. It’s a shame, because that cultured lob at West Ham was the goal of a striker at the peak of his powers. If we ever get awarded a penalty (I don’t think we’ve had one yet this season), that may be his best chance to get the monkey off his back.

Odion Ighalo
A shadow of his former self, and now fourth choice when all the forwards are fit. As I’ve written before, I can’t help thinking the illness and subsequent death of his father had something to do with his drastic loss of form. All strikers go through dry spells, but we’re beyond that now. I would send him on loan to a Championship club in January in the hope that he can rediscover his mojo against weaker defences. If that doesn’t work, or if he refuses to go, then sell him.

Obbi Oularé
Currently on a season-long loan to Zulte Waregem in Belgium, where he’s scored one goal in nine appearances. It’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll ever see him in a Watford shirt again, but I don’t think we’ll be negotiating an emergency recall just yet.

Matej Vydra
I said in July that if we received a decent offer for Matty, he’d be off, and Derby duly obliged. Two goals in 17 appearances to date suggests that he’s not finding Championship defences as obliging as he used to, and that we made the right decision.

Mathias Ranegie
Here’s a thing: the big Swede is still a Watford player. He’s been on loan at Djurgaardens in Sweden, where the season ended in November (he scored six goals in 25 appearances), so he should theoretically be back at London Colney now, training with the rest of the Watford squad. I say ‘theoretically’, as I doubt that’s the case, somehow.

Adalberto Peñaranda
The teenage prodigy (he’s still only 19) is on loan at Udinese, where he’s only made five appearances (four off the bench) and has had injury problems. Jon Sinclair’s invaluable player listing at says he’s due to join Watford properly next season. We’ll see. Another one for the future.

Isaac Success
A handful of exciting substitute appearances and an all-action performance at Middlesbrough have been enough to saddle Isaac with the burden of the fans’ expectations, and with Troy and Iggy faltering, it would be great if he could step up over the Christmas period. But the fact that Walter is so reluctant to give him a start suggests that he still hasn’t put his injury problems behind him.

Jerome Sinclair
Another who Walter has used sparingly, until his surprise selection in midweek, suggesting it’s taken him a while to get up to speed. I haven’t seen him play yet, so I can’t really comment. But at the rate the injuries are piling up, he may get his chance soon.

Alex Jakubiak
Last year’s under-21 goal machine is currently warming the bench at League One Fleetwood, where he’s only made it onto the pitch three times. Given that he’s the same age as Sinclair and Success, and a year older that Peñaranda, I don’t rate his chances of making it at Vicarage Road, sadly.

Stefano Okaka
Not included in my original list, as he hadn’t signed at that point, but I’m very glad he did. Like Success, injury has limited him to a handful of promising cameo performances so far. If he could get properly fit, he could be a key player in the second half of the season.

So there you go. We still have nine strikers on the books, and yet they’ve only scored seven league goals between them so far. It’s not good enough, is it?

Personally, I’d like to see us line up with a front three of Deeney, Okaka and Success, or Deeney and Okaka supported by Success and Amrabat on the wings. There’s enough muscle and talent there to frighten any Premier League defence. Whether we’ll ever get the chance to see that, though, is the big question.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The family way

There are three main ways in which people choose which football team to support: they follow the example of a parent or sibling; support their local club; or jump on the bandwagon of whichever club is the most popular or successful at the time. (There is also a fourth way, which you could call random selection – as exercised by my younger brother, who suddenly announced on the morning of the 1975 FA Cup final that he was going to support whichever team won. He’s been a West Ham fan ever since.)

I took the second route. Growing up in Bushey Heath, and having discovered (via the publicity given to the Hornets’ 1970 FA Cup run) that there was a football club in the town where we did our family shopping, I persuaded my dad to take me to Vicarage Road, and a lifelong love affair began. But I could just as easily have become a Lincoln City fan.

That’s because my father grew up in Lincoln and used to go and watch his local club. (This being in the 1930s, you could apparently go to the game, buy a programme, get some chips on the way home and still have change from a farthing.) To be honest, I don’t think he was really a fan. When it came to sport, he’d rather play than watch, and by the time I was interested in football he showed no sign of taking any special interest in Lincoln City’s fortunes. Hence I was free to follow my own path.

But recently I spent a few days in Lincolnshire researching my family history, and I got to wondering how it would have been if I had decided to follow my father’s team, albeit from afar. I’d never have got to see my favourites play in the top division or Europe, that’s for sure; Lincoln hold the record for the most seasons in the Football League (104) without ever reaching the top tier. The pinnacle of their achievement is fifth place in the Second Division, way back in 1902.

In contrast, they’ve been relegated from the League more times (five) than any other club, and are currently in their sixth consecutive season in the National League. They’re having a good season, as it happens; they’re currently in second place and have made the FA Cup 3rd Round. Then again, to put it into perpective, they’re only seven places ahead of another local team I could have picked as a boy – the mighty Boreham Wood.

In a way, none of this matters. I know people (not least my brother) who’ve followed a team from a distance for years, rarely seeing them play in the flesh, and they’re no less supporters for that. If I’d followed in my father’s footsteps, I would doubtless now be able to reel off statistics about the club and compile lists of favourite players, just like any other long-time Lincoln fan.

But I wouldn’t have seen them play getting on for 1,000 times, and I wouldn’t have experienced that satisfying sense of the fortnightly home game being an established part of my life’s routine, as it has been for the past 40-odd years. So all in all, I’m glad Dad never tried to persuade me to follow his boyhood team.

And of course, there is one particular link between the Hornets and the Imps that changed the course of footballing history: I’ve always been obscurely proud that, of all the places where Graham Taylor could have served his managerial apprenticeship, it happened to be Lincoln.