Older readers may remember playing Frustration as a child. It was a fairly basic board game where you rolled a die and moved your pieces around a circuit; the first player to get all their pieces home was the winner. The twist was that, if another player landed on a spot that one of your pieces was occupying, yours got sent all the way back to the start, even if you were only one place from home. Hence the name of the game.
It’s as apt a metaphor as I can think of for Watford’s season, a season in which, again and again, a promising beginning has been undone and we’ve ended up back at square one. The games where we’ve played well, taken the lead and then ended up drawing or losing. The players who’ve lit up the pitch for a handful of matches and then picked up an injury that kept them out for months on end. And, of course, the head coach who looked like he might be the one to take Watford to the next level, only to have his head turned by a rival club and lose focus.
Yesterday’s opponents provided a timely reminder of how things could have been, like the ‘here’s what you could have won’ reveal on a TV gameshow. In a parallel universe, we could have been where Burnley are, sitting in 7th place, dreaming of winning a place in Europe.
Imagine for a moment that, throughout the season, we’d been able to field Chalobah, Cleverley and Doucouré in the centre of midfield, in front of a defence anchored by the strength and experience of Kaboul and Cathcart. Imagine we’d had access to the speed of Femenía and the skill of Hughes and Pereyra in every game. Imagine (and admittedly, this is a bit more of a stretch) that we’d managed to find a way to make a pairing of Deeney and Gray work up front. I know ‘what if’ is one of the most pointless phrases in the lexicon, but you can’t help wondering, can you?
The fact that, despite all these frustrations – all the leads chucked away and the absurdly lengthy absences through injury – we’re still sitting fairly comfortably in mid-table,almost makes it worse. So near, and yet so far.
Hopefully we’ll pick up a few more points before the season ends (although you can look at our remaining games and make a plausible case for us losing every one, given the form and/or desperation of the opposition), and then regroup in the summer, ready for the season we should have had this time round. But of course, somehow it never works out that way.