LATEST EPISODE: Critical Friends
Recorded on the night that it was announced that Billy McKinlay was being replaced by SLAVIŠA JOKANOVIĆ as the Head Coach of Watford FC, Jon Jason and Mike chat about the extraordinary whirlwind that has been the last 37 days in Watford history.
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Monday, 21 April 2008
Watford are a big part of my life, and will remain to be so - whatever happens, Premier League or Blue Square Premier League, I'll be there.
I wasn't there on Saturday though. I've had enough for this season. I'm not sure what that makes me - perhaps I haven;t got the stomach for the fight any more, perhaps I am getting older, perhaps I am conscious that I could spend more time with my girlfriend, or paying attention to the work that needs doing to my house.
I don't think it is any of those to be honest.
I had a moment of clarity during the week. I realised that i wasn't looking forward to going to the game. I just didn't want to do that walk to the ground that I have done however many hundreds of thousand times before. I just couldn't see myself enjoying it.
Now I know supporting your team is about supporting your team through thick and thin - being there for the good and the bad - yada yada yada. Well I have been there for both the good and the bad, but this season seems to have transgressed into some sort of baffling twilight zone. It isn't bad because we are 5th in the league, and still in with a (vague) chance of promotion, but it isn't good because, well, it just isn't is it?
Whatever it is, being at Vicarage Road this season has largely been an unenjoyable experience.
In the main, I enjoy my club being up there with the chasing pack. I enjoy us being "contenders". I'm not so sure I like what it has done to some of our supporters though.
"Boothroyd's got to go"
"He's taken us as far as he can" and of course, my personal favourite
"He's lost the dressing room"
All these phrases come tumbling out of fan's mouths, with varying degrees of inteligibility but increasing frequency and volume.
Yes, Boothroyd has spent money that no other Watford manager has had. But there is money in the game that the game has never had. Yes, we had a good start and were 9 points clear, but hey ho - other people have been up there and blown it too. At least we were up there and fighting. In with a chance. Yes, the football isn't going to win the Arsene Wenger style award, but hey, we are Watford fans - apart from pretty isolated pockets, when has it ever been anything else?
Perhaps we have a right to expect more, perhaps we don't. There are some that argue without ambition and indeed expectation, we may as well give up. What I am certain of is that people deserve time to get it right.
Adrian Boothroyd is a new manager. Not just new to us, but new to the job. He is bound to find it hard, and unfortunately that has been all to obvious at times but in the cold light of day, he hasn't done too badly has he.
Season 1 - Kept Watford up.
Season 2 - Watford promoted.
Season 3 - The Premiership - tough, but not embarassed.
Season 4 - Who knows, but it looks like another Top 6 finish.
On top of that, during his tenure he has had the unenviable/impossible task of replacing 4 of our most important, influential and valuable players - Marlon King, Hameur Bouazza, Adam Johnson and Ashley Young. Did anyone see Ashley Young play against Birmingham on Sunday? How do you replace that?
Boothroyd has spent more than any other Watford manager. Yes. But he has also achieved more than all but one manager already. Perhaps he deserves the chance to have another crack at it? OK, so we haven't won anything this year, no Cup Semi Final, No Championship. Last time I checked, Arsenal aren't going to win anything either. Does this mean Arsene Wenger has taken Arsenal "as far as he can"?
My point is, while I agree we should be aspiring to be as good as we can, and aiming to be an establishd Premiership team, the expectation among seems to have manifested itself in some sort of impatient, posionous desire for everything to be good, and for it to be good RIGHT NOW.
Players and management are berated in equal measure for misplaced passes, for not playing the ball on the floor, and in the same breath for not "getting rid of it". For not bringing a substitute on, and then for bringing him on to late. That substitute is then subject to abuse too, just for good measure.
Like I said, I haven't enjoyed the footbal this season. Whatever way you look at it, you couldn't describe it as awe inspiring. I can see the bigger picture though. Building a team, a successful team takes time. Look at Fergie at Man United. What had he won in the time that Boothroyd has been at Watford? Not much. What has he won now?...
So the combination of the angry, impatient and perhaps ill informed anger of the home fans and the prospect of another Neil Warnock side running rings round us at home meant that i gave myself the afternoon off.
Of course all I did at home was pace the lounge and fret. I had Three Counties radio on, I turned it off. I had Soccer Saturday on, I turned it off. I had Beach cricket from Australia on, and quite enjoyed that for a while, but turned that off too. You see, you can't escape. That's what football does to you, it consumes you. It's irrational and it's daft, but it's the way it is.
I've renewed my season ticket already, and I'll be there next year, excited and full of hope. Again. I just hope EVERYONE learns something over the coming summer months, and we all come back stronger and better. We'll all enjoy it much more then.
It couldn't have been much worse, I grant you, but lets give them the benefit of the doubt. The sight of John Eustace back in a yellow (red) shirt will very rarely be the cause for so much relief - crikey we missed him.
Most of you will have either been there or watched it on the box, so I won't bore you with a match report. I think it can be pretty neatly summed up by saying that the 1st half belonged to Watford, the 2nd to West Brom.
Their disallowed goal should have probably been allowed, we probably should have had a penalty. All even on the refereeing front I reckon.
So they CAN do it you see. They can pull the odd decent performance out of the bag. The fact that it took such a small number of 2nd half minutes to elapse before we surrendered our hard earned lead was disappointing, but sadly, not unexpected.
I guess this game sums our season up in a way - decent start, just about held it together for the majority, but in the final analysis we really didn't have enough to see us over the finish line.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
It's funny you know, I had a bad feeling about last night. It set in when I read a report on the West Ham V Portsmouth game from Tuesday night. In it Alan Curbishley bemoaned the poor performance form both his West Ham team and the crowd at the Boleyn Ground. He said it was "flat".
He couldn't understand this he went on to say, as this was an important match for the club. The team need to stay in 10th to hit their target for the season (and therefore for the players to qualify for their huge cash bonuses) and this was an important game in making sure they achieved that target.
However, despite the carrot of cementing their place in 10th and banking their additional vast wedges of bunce, they couldn't get themselves out of first gear. This transmitted itself to the fans in the stands and the whole thing ended up as a damp squib and a forgettable home defeat.
Can you see what I'm getting at? Can you see why I was worried, and why I am now a mixture of resigned, angry and disbelieveing? Watford had more to play for than just cementing 10th last night. They could have gone TOP for heavens sake. Yes, that's right top of the league, with 4 games to go. Our destiny somewhow in our own hands despite months and months of abject performances and results that would normally be associated with a team facing relegation.
They could have gone top and that was the best they could come up with.
Boothroyd said after the game that Barnsley were there for the taking. That they looked like a team that were going to get beaten. Perhaps the crowd felt this too, and as a result, just like it was at Upton Park on Tuesday, the atmosphere was virtually non existent.
It quickly became apparent that a lack of atmosphere was the very least of our worries. The lack of Tommy Smith, aruguably our most consistent, and definitely one of our hardest working players, set alarm bells ringing immediately. Jordan Stewart was his replacement on the left, a decent shout I guess considering his half decent sub appearance on Saturday, but to cut a long story short, it didn't really work.
Neither did Ellington and Henderson up front. The rare flick ons that were won by one of the big strikers found no-one running on to them, and Ellington in particular seemed particularly unwilling to shoot when presented with the chance.
These two issues give rise to the question - what is wrong with Ainsworth, and what is wrong with Collins John? Neither were afforded a place on what was a very uninspiring looking bench.
Admittedly Ainsworth may have flattered to deceive on his few appearances, but it is no coincidence that our results and performances began their slide to last night's all time low when Adam Johnson left. We miss his creativity and ability, and Tommy Smith and Jobi McAnuff (occasionally) have battled manfully to fill the obvious void, but at least in Ainswort we have something aproaching an alternative for one or other of them? To replace Smith with Stewart and have no viable alternative on the bench was conservative at best, and at worst just plain weird.
As for Collins John, his place on the bench was snaffled by the enigma that is Tamas Priskin. He has been afforded more chances than most by Boothroyd, and this most recent recall must be classed as all the more suprising as we now have Colins John - a player that Boothroyd has long championed, but seems to have quickly discarded.
Can we expect to see Ainsworth and John at Watford next year? The fact that they are currently on loan and seem to be unable to break into the 1st team squad at a time when injuries and suspensions are abound would suggest not. (I have since been reminded that Lionel Ainsworth was of course signed permanently in January. Whether I chose to ignore this fact for the purposes of this article or just plain forgot is for you, dear reader, to decide)
Anyway, back to the game.
Actually, let's not. We all know what happened. Watford turned in one of the worst home performences in living memory and were comfortably beaten by a side who "looked like they were going to get beaten". In the event, there was only one team that was going to get beat and as soon as Barnsley scored, the game was up. As with the game on Saturday, there was no response from the players, no rally, no extra urgency in the play.
Watford have never looked less of a cohesive unit, never looked so ill at ease with each other or with what they are trying to achieve. This team couldn't be more different than the squad who swept to promotion last time, they appear to be a collection of individuals with varying degrees of talent and commitment just going throught the motions. And what is worse, they only just manage to pull that off.
Where this team goes from here, I have no idea. Upwards? On last night's evidence almost certainly (and perhaps thankfully) not. Imagine that team platying in the Premiership if you dare. We'd make Derby look like Barcelona.
So what then? All I can suggest is a summer of consolidation. A long hard look at the squad and what it actually provides. I think Aidy made some decent acquisitions in Eustace, Saddler and Bromby, and has been unlucky with the striker situation - had Ellington managed to produce what the footballing world knows he is capabale it may have ben a different story. He hasn't though, and so we find ourselves here, limping towards the end of one of the most unpleasant to watch seasons for a long, long time.
We definitely have the basis of a good squad, and it shouldn't all be doom and gloom but what is painfully evident is that the basis of a good squad isn't enough, and judging from last night it is nowhere near enough.
I sincerely hope we improve for Saturday's big game, although for now I can hardly bring myself to think about it. I have better things to do.
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
This game was yet another Vicarage Road endurance test. After the welcome surprise of a Nathan Ellington goal (a well taken one at that) we seemed to run out of ideas and slowly but surely Coventry took over, knocking the ball around, sucking the life out of both the game and the crowd.
After half time there wasn't even a rally after one must assume was a rocket from Aidy Boothroyd - it was just a depressing extension of the 1st half with Watford looking more and more devoid of ideas or confidence and Coventry just working the ball around, not really threatening, but in charge none the less.
Their goal came after 60 minutes, and unfortunately it came as no surprise. All too easily Leon Best nodded home, all to easily it looked like our season was slipping away. Again, there was no rally, no real indication that either the players, manager, or the fans thought that we were going to get a win out of this.
The situation was rather sadly summed up with the following from the terraces;
"Play your hearts out for the fans" came the crowd's plea.
"Boooooooooooooo" shouted those same fans minutes later, following the introduction of current pantomime villain Jordan Stewart.
Whilst this exchange serves to highlight the frustration that I'm sure everyone felt during the game, it also brings into sharp focus the fact that some Watford fans need to have a long hard look at themselves, and perhaps do a bit of research into the clubs history and resources. Believe it or not kids, we have very rarely had it so good...Anyway, I will cover the booing of Jordan Stewart elsewhere, but those fans will hopefully have noticed the upturn in fortunes down the left following Stewart's introduction.
Despite the reshuffle it was looking increasingly likely that we weren't going to do the business and a point was the height of our ambitions. That was until Vialli throwback Stephen Hughes let a through ball bounce over his head, allowing Tommy Smith to run on unchallenged and a Watford player beat Kasper Schmeichel between the sticks for the 4th time this season.
Cue some of the best celebrations seen at Vicarage Road in a long time and all of a sudden, against all odds, and despite ourselves, Watford are back in with a shout. Of course we need a better performance, a much better performance against Barnsley tomorrow night, but win that one and we can count ourselves well and truly back in the race for promotion.
The impending return of Darius Henderson and John Eustace provide some comfort and cause for optimism, but despite poor results for Bristol City and Stoke I still don't know whether to laugh, cry, or just go on holiday until the whole thing is over...