Golden boys enjoy a day in the sun
Just a couple of weeks ago, Watford fan Tom Bodell was feeling rather defeatist about his side’s chances of even staying in the Championship this season. For a short time, at least, they sat in first position and he now reflects on that brief stay at the summit:
Well, well, well. After the first evening of the 2010/2011 season, a surprise name proudly topped the Championship table. Malky Mackay’s unfancied and much-maligned side led the way 90 minutes into the new campaign following a thrilling 3-2 win against Paul Lambert’s newly-promoted Norwich City.
Forget the fact Norwich spent last season in League One. The Canaries are a strong side and their relegation was the result of mismanagement, not a year-on-year spiral toward the inevitable. The swashbuckling manner in which they returned to the second tier is testament to that.
I spent the whole summer preaching doom and telling anyone who would listen that 21st place would be a marvellous achievement. It turns out I may be just another irrational, imbalanced and extremely fickle fan…
The London-based Metro newspaper proclaimed Watford’s televised curtain-raiser to be “the opener we didn’t want.” With “glamour” ties such at Derby County’s trip to Leeds United and Burnley’s clash with Nottingham Forest available on the first weekend of the season, Norwich vs Watford scarcely figured on anyone’s radar.
As it happened, the game was a perfect early reminder of the Championship’s best qualities, with the Hornets coming out on top. To have held the coveted position for fifteen and a half hours is more than enough for this Watford fan over the course of the season and certainly more than I ever imagined, even after it was announced we would open the 2010/11 English league campaign.
Maybe things will not be as bad as first feared. Maybe this season will not be an uphill struggle against the rest of the division. Maybe ‘Super’ Danny Graham will manage to avoid his several-month-long goal drought. Maybe the kids will pull out all the stops.
After all, the first eleven doesn’t actually look that bad. The less said about the backup, the better, though. And of course, there’s always a more than strong chance of various other perennial strugglers failing to keep their heads above the parapet.
In Scott Loach, the Hornets have a reliable and established performer between the posts. Loach is a fine goalkeeper now in his third season as a first-teamer and much coveted by Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur and possibly Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa. An excellent shot-stopper with superb agility, reflexes and reactions, command of his area and greater authority will come with age for the England Under 21 cap.
Across the back, Lee Hodson, Aidy Mariappa, Martin Taylor and Lloyd ‘Lloydinho’ Doyley have been playing together since the January arrival of ‘Tiny’ Taylor and, although they look likely to concede, there is an abundance of experience scattered among three of that back four.
Taylor, as the most experienced, will be expected to hold the backline together and, with the benefit of a full pre-season and first team football for the first time in a while, the former Birmingham centre-half should provide a marked improvement on last season.
In midfield, John Eustace has enjoyed a comeback at the Vic’ befitting of Lazarus. Eustace has recently signed a new contract and been handed the club captaincy despite envious looks from the bright lights of Elland Road and Turf Moor.
Cast aside by former boss Brendan Rodgers and Mackay himself last summer, Eustace has fought back to claim the captaincy and a pivotal role in the midfield alongside wee Stephen McGinn who has elevated himself into the first-team thinking thanks to a superb goalscoring pre-season.
Wingers Don Cowie and Will Buckley are brilliant on their day and worse than average when not on song, but find me a pair of wide men who aren’t the very definition of mercurial.
Cowie’s engine makes him equally important in defence as in attack down the right, while Buckley possesses that rare trait of guided confidence. Not scared to take men on and run at established full-backs, the former Rochdale man will have an increased role this term with Tom Cleverley returning to Manchester United.
Up top is where it really gets interesting. Danny Graham notched an impressive fourteen in his first full season in the Championship — that in spite of a less than impressive festive period.
Two against Norwich is the ideal start for the former Carlisle United forward but much pressure lies on the relatively young striker’s shoulders this season with talismanic forward Heidar Helguson returning to QPR following a season-long loan.
“Marvellous” Marvin Sordell is a hyperactive frontman possessing the much sought-after combination of pace and power. Having notched in the League Cup last year and whilst on loan at Les Parry’s Tranmere Rovers, Sordell looks likely to be the immediate rival to new-boy Troy Deeney in the battle for a starting striking berth.
Finally, the man fronting this hotchpotch rabble, Mackay himself. Malky is a man not without his flaws, particularly an inability to make substitutions before the 80th minute and a stubbornness to deviate from his favoured starting eleven.
However, what the likeable Scot lacks in urgency, he certainly makes up for in passion, personality and leadership. The players want to play for the former centre-half and, to date, his transfer record has been decent. When working with a shoestring budget, financial prudence is of course critical.
In a few weeks time, when this wave of positivity has been washed away by a couple of dour displays and consequently disappointing results, I’ll be jumping back on my perch to preach our demise once more. Until then, time to savour a superb opening day’s work.
Written by: Tom Bodell