Greatly different expectations for Hammers and Hornets
Watford fan Tom Bodell and West Ham United supporter Stuart Fuller offer their thoughts ahead of the big kick-off this weekend.
Watford – by Tom Bodell
With Sean Dyche now at the helm at Vicarage Road, Watford have continuity despite Malky Mackay’s defection to Cardiff City. Dyche took a similar route to Mackay to the hotseat and has worked for the club since retiring in 2007. Having operated under Mackay, it’s hoped the flame-goateed former ‘Orns defender will maintain the continuity of a similar brand of football to his predecessor.
Sizing up his rough demeanour, it’s clear that the Dyche is of the old-school variety. He won’t stand for any rubbish and despite his relative youth in the management game, he will demand respect and 100% effort from his squad. Even lieutenants Martin Taylor and John Eustace, two of the few over-30s in the squad, will not be exempt.
In terms of the playing staff, the squad looks stronger than ever with six of the planned seven summer purchases completed on permanent contracts. Experienced cover has been added at the back in David Mirfin, who will provide competition for Aidy Mariappa and the aforementioned Taylor. Mariappa and Taylor missed just one league game between them last term; that kind of luck cannot stretch to this season. Another new arrival, Carl Dickinson, becomes the first left-back since Jordan Stewart (who left in 2008) to look like stamping his authority in that position.
Winger Craig Forsyth is an unknown quantity, having arrived from Scottish First Division outfit Dundee for an undisclosed fee. Mark Yeates helps to plug the void left by the loss of both Will Buckley and Don Cowie. Despite frustrating spells at Sheffield United and Middlesbrough, the former Colchester winger will add width to an otherwise narrow midfield.
One-time prospect and Ghanaian international Prince Buaben adds further depth to the midfield ranks having arrived on a free, and with creative force Stephen McGinn sidelined until at least December, the importance of Prince’s arrival cannot be under-estimated. Rated by FourFourTwo magazine as ‘one to watch’ a few years back, Buaben will be eager to make his mark in the English game.
Finally, striker Chris Iwelumo – who looked a handful on his debut against Wealdstone – is an ideal replacement for the departed Danny Graham. Big and strong, the Scottish cap should form a strong partnership with youngster Marvin Sordell who thrives on having a leader of the line to play off.
Perhaps this is the season Watford finally tally with the “expert” predictions and plummet miserably into the third tier for the first time in over a decade… but it’s time to think positive thoughts!
West Ham United – by Stuart Fuller
Bolton Wanderers Lite… That is what some of the media are calling West Ham United this season. Sam Allardyce has come in, taken a look at the squad that got the club relegated last season and hasn’t liked what he has seen. So he has brought in some of his tried and trusted warriors. Kevin Nolan is a natural born leader – but unless Scott Parker exits the big gates on Green Street, Big Sam will struggle to fit those two and the fans’ favourite Mark Noble into the midfield, a fact borne out in the first pre-season friendly in Copenhagen in July.
Joining Nolan in the ex-Wanderers end of the dressing room are Republic of Ireland international Joey O’Brien, Abdoulaye Faye and latest signing Matty Taylor. Thank God so far there is no sign of El Hadji Diouf.
Pre-season has been a mixed bag. Poor performances in the Urhen Cup in Switzerland against Young Boys Berne and FC Basel have been tempered with good wins against FC Copenhagen and Real Zaragoza, sandwiched between average performances away at Wycombe Wanderers and Dagenham & Redbridge.
Make no mistake, West Ham are the big name in the division this year. It is no wonder that all of the major betting companies make them joint favourites for promotion this season. However, this may work against the Hammers, as many clubs will see them as their “Cup Final”, raising their game, or simply coming to E14 to park their bus.
History suggests this will be no cakewalk. In West Ham’s last stint in the division some eight years ago, it took two visits to the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to get out of the league. While many fans will remember the ecstasy of Bobby Zamora’s winner against Preston North End, others will remember painful home games against the likes of Walsall, Gillingham and Crewe Alexandra.
With the Championship season starting three weeks before the end of the transfer window, expect some changes after this weekend’s televised clash with Cardiff City. The majority of supporters are still surprised that Robert Green, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole will almost certainly be lining up against the Welshmen. Of the three, West Ham now have able replacements for Green – in Ruud Boffin, the huge Belgium keeper – and Parker – after the capture of Nolan – but it is up front where the concerns lie. West Ham need a goalscorer. From 2003 to 2005, the goals were provided by Zamora and Marlon Harewood. Today there is only Cole. Allardyce recently admitted he needs to bring in a striker.
The fixtures haven’t been too kind to the Hammers with Cardiff City, Leeds United and Portsmouth first up at Upton Park. But you have to beat your rivals to get out of this division.
West Ham fans are a funny lot. If Allardyce delivers wins against the above, plus a victory in the derby at Millwall in mid-September, you can be sure his name will be sung around the Boleyn. Anything less and each long ball punted forward will be met with boos.