Are Watford the worst side in the Championship?
DISCLAIMER: Hello, Watford fans… Now arriving in your droves to have a chuckle at this article. Yes, yes, very impressive… The article below was, in fact, written by a Watford supporter.
Admittedly, I thought you would struggle too and I am enjoying your success so far this season. All the best for the rest of the campaign!
Watford kick off the new Championship season with a trip to Carrow Road to do battle with Paul Lambert’s newly-promoted Norwich City live in front of the Sky cameras.
For supporters of Watford, it is as worrying a pre-season as it has been for a long time; just how will this youthful, threadbare squad fare in such a fiercely contested league?
The 2009/10 season saw two perennial strugglers in Sheffield Wednesday and Plymouth Argyle depart for pastures new, whilst Peterborough self-imploded before Christmas by sacking Fergie Jnr. Barnsley did the exact opposite, exploding into life when Mark Robins took over.
Another supposedly weak side in Blackpool are gone as they head for a year-long vacation to the Premier League, and even Crystal Palace, having only recently exited administration, seem to be heading into the new campaign with more reason for optimism.
All this begs the question: are Watford now the weakest side in the Championship?
Unsurprisingly, the off-season has been about shedding excess weight from the squad, or to put it another way, shifting anyone not earning a pittance or no good. Club captain Jay DeMerit, utility man Jon Harley and mercurial striker Will Hoskins all departed on free transfers on June 30th along with backup ‘keeper Richard Lee, who rejected another year sat on the Vicarage Road bench in favour of League One football with Brentford.
Youngsters Billy Gibson and Jonathan North, neither of whom ever had a sniff of first-team action, were moved on, whilst international man of mystery, Jure Travner, and fellow dud left-back Mat Sadler left on loan.
A familiar story
Now this post-season exodus is something Watford fans have become accustomed to of late. Last season saw talismanic forward Tommy Smith, Hungarian international Tamas Priskin, commanding centre-half Mike Williamson, namesake Lee and winger Jobi McAnuff all move on.
The likes of Darius Henderson and Danny Shittu had already left the Vic. After several years of shedding that apparently unnecessary skin, Malky Mackay finds himself left with what others won’t take: kids and dross, a squad that is a mere shadow of the thirty-odd men Aidy Boothroyd insisted on carrying post-Premier League.
How they line up
The first eleven doesn’t actually look too bad. Goalkeeper Scott Loach has Premier League suitors in Spurs, right-back Lee Hodson looks a real prospect and has Northern Ireland U21 caps to boot.
Centre halves Martin Taylor and Aidy Mariappa have top-flight experience and complement each other well. Left-back is evidently a concern as the number three shirt has yet to be filled, though the enthusiastic if not sometimes haphazard Lloyd Doyley has come on leaps and bounds since switching sides.
Wide right is Don Cowie, a man who can be unplayable on his day, yet all too often flattered to deceive last season. In the middle is John Eustace and another decent youngster in Ross Jenkins, who was victim of Henri Lansbury’s rampaging midfield displays last term.
The left is once again a desolate wasteland, whilst the new partnership up top appears to be former Rochdale whiz-kid Will Buckley and last season’s fourteen-goal top scorer, Danny Graham – a target for Swansea City under previous manager Paulo Sousa.
Strength in depth – or lack of it
With the spine of the Hornets side last season essentially loanees, Mackay made shrewd January moves in bringing in Buckley, who has so far impressed, and Stephen McGinn, who so far hasn’t. These moves pre-empted the Tom Cleverley and Henri Lansbury shaped holes in the Hornets side for the 2010/11 campaign.
Rene Gilmartin arrived from Walsall to replace Richard Lee on the bench while Tom Aldred is “one for the future” having only made five senior career appearances.
Underneath what is a flimsy but half-decent likely starting eleven is where the real worries lie. Youthful defenders lie in wait for their inevitable chances in the shape of England Under-19 cap Eddie Oshodi and the promising Dale Bennett.
Midfield cover goes as far as McGinn, twenty-year-old Rob Kiernan (allegedly tracked by Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool) the past-it and soon to be off Scott Severin, and diminutive wide-boy, Michael Bryan.
Up top, the backup is Marvin Sordell, who scored his first three senior goals last season in a handful of appearances, and Liam Henderson, who scored a resounding zero in considerably more cameo appearances. He did, however, knock in an absolute hatful against the likes of Stevenage Borough’s reserves, which should stand him in good stead against Portsmouth, Hull and Burnley. Gulp.
The task ahead
If Watford are to be competitive this season, then two full-backs, two central midfielders, a wide player and a couple of strikers are going to have to be found somehow and fast. Otherwise, last season’s reliance on the likes of Cleverley, Lansbury and Helguson will become all the more evident.
Mackay’s best chance of bringing the required bodies in seems to be the loan market once again, but with the club already in a perilous financial position and season ticket sales predictably down on the previous season, will the club be able to entice anything other than more kids in on temporary deals?
All the while, Norwich City are adding new players on a near-daily basis. Millwall have supplemented their squad with experience and depth through solid if unspectacular signings whilst Leeds have shown an impressive recruitment drive with the likes of Kasper Schmeichel and Billy Paynter among their additions.
As promoted sides go, these three look anything but relegation fodder. Doncaster Rovers, Crystal Palace and Scunthorpe United do not look like world-beaters but they appear stronger than Watford.
Will the 2010/11 season see Watford drop back the third division for the first time in thirteen years?
Written by: Tom Bodell