The Thursday Preview: Watford Vs Reading
When it comes down to it, fans of the two Ps, the Posh and the Pilgrims, would be the first to admit that their teams’ Championship exit was written in the stars from Day One this season. A combination of limited funds, crass ownership and poor managerial appointments kept both on the naughty step for large periods, and neither have done enough to suggest that their stay in League One will be fleeting: both appear to be in a bit of a mess. ‘Outspoken’ doesn’t nearly do Peterborough Chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s regular ramblings justice, and Argyle striker Jamie Mackie today admitted that his team’s relegation was deserved in a candid interview with the Plymouth-based Herald.
As well as pointing the finger at himself and his teammates, Mackie inadvertently went about setting up the prelude for this week’s Preview when he said “Whoever comes third from bottom will be the third worst team in the league.” Basic logic it may be, but is it true?
Should Watford fall out of the league, then their fans might disagree. This season was always going to be a slog, what with financial disquiet having an increasingly noxious effect on the club as well as the controversial loss of manager Brendan Rodgers (remember him?) in the summer, but for the majority of the campaign it’s been anything but a struggle. Indeed, until February most rose-tinted Watford fans would have been looking up rather than down the table, and even our seasoned friends at BHaPPY found themselves running out of superlatives to describe a series of eye-catching victories.
But in the end the rise in expectation levels at Vicarage Road has proved to be illusory and, according to our Watford correspondent, rather than forcing the issue themselves the Hornets now appear to be clinging on to the hope that either Palace or Wednesday will yield less points than they do in the two fixtures that remain.
I had the misfortune to witness one of the worst football matches in my living memory two weeks ago when, on a whim, I travelled up the Metropolitan Line to see if my team could prove me wrong and put in a winning performance in Hertfordshire. Luckily for Watford fans, their side came up against the most spineless, gutless, everything-less bunch of wastrels they could ever hope to meet in a six-pointer and the Golden Boys duly helped themselves to a scrappy three points. Even so, injury-stricken and bereft of Tom Cleverley, their Player of the Season, Watford made hard work of it, and it’s been no surprise to see them return pointless from subsequent trips to Leicester and QPR.
That they meet Reading, the poachers of their ex-manager Rodgers and the scorers of that ‘goal’ in the same fixture last season, would have been ironic were the Ballymena man still with the Royals, but the magnitude of the fixture means that, unlike in the reverse fixture, his defection is peripheral: it’s all about Watford this weekend. Their squad being as thin as it is, the team will be similar to that put out at Loftus Road on Tuesday, with full back Lloyd Doyley the only defensive player who’s likely to come in, replacing either Lee Hodson or the emerging Dale Bennett. Going forward, right-sided midfielder Don Cowie is expected to return from a knock, and the need to win would indicate that manager Malky Mackay will approach the game positively by starting with both Heidar Helguson, who sat out Tuesday’s defeat to his parent club, and Danny Graham in attack.
Reading will be tricky opponents. They may not always be the loudest bunch, but a sizable away crowd will follow the Rs across the Home Counties hoping to witness the extension of their team’s outstanding form since Brian McDermott’s installation as permanent manager in January. £2 million Captain Matt Mills will return from suspension to bolster the defence, but otherwise the team will be similar to that put out against Scunthorpe on Tuesday which, containing as it does the pearly talents of Gylfi Sigurðsson and Jimmy Kébé, should strike fear into Watford hearts.
Goalkeeper Adam Federici remains the weakness for Reading, his latest gaffe for Gary Hooper’s goal on Tuesday just one in a long line of clangers, but the Royals hold the upper hand going into the game. What’s more, McDermott has demonstrated on numerous occasions a strength for calling substitutions right, something that Mackay has struggled to achieve: his baffling reluctance to give pacy Sunderland loanee Ryan Noble an opportunity from the bench resulting in the youngster clearing off back to Wearside. Hornets fans have praised their team’s spirit and desire throughout season, but as the pressure mounts they need a leader who is willing to stick his neck out and make a game-changing decision. McDermott possesses that ability as well as a decent bench and, to his colleague Nigel Gibbs’ dismay, that could prove to be a game-breaker this weekend.