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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Thursday, 12 November 2009
Many of you will remember that it was our very own John Eustace who scored Derby’s goal that day. It was a fairly meaningless goal, Watford had as good as won the game and both teams were safely ensconced in the middle of the Championship table. John Eustace was pleased to have scored though, and having netted at the Vicarage Road End he ran full pelt towards the Watford faithful in the Rookery, jumped up in the air, planted his feet and raised both arms in celebration. All with a huge, goofy, slightly maniacal grin on his face.
In these days of mind games and arguments, money and moaning, diving and dishonesty, I was delighted to see a bloke playing football, and managing having a bit of fun at the same time. Granted, it was only a small thing, but I noticed it, and I enjoyed it.
What has given me greater pleasure is that John Eustace has since returned to Watford, and has played a significant part in our season to date. He’s been effective, combative, and a consistently impressive performer in our pleasantly surprising season to date. What’s more though, he’s done it in his slightly barmy, unhinged, enjoyable way. Eustace charges round the pitch like a youngster playing his first game on a full pitch, and I’ll grant you some of his challenges can be a bit, ahem, exuberant. But there is never any malice intended when he and a bemused and shaken opponent invariably end up in a crumpled heap on the floor, and I’ll tell you why. Because John Eustace is having fun. He likes playing football. He is enjoying himself, and it shows.
Here is a man who gets very little credit from the fans, has been on the transfer list at his parent club and shunted out on loan, yet still obviously loves his job. The majority of us fans would give pretty much anything to be a professional footballer, and If I ever did get that opportunity, I like to think I’d embrace each game, each opportunity like John Eustace does.
Sadly, there are fewer and fewer players with which fans can feel any sort of connection, but I can relate to John Eustace. He covers ground for the team, he tackles hard, he passes the ball whilst looking the other way, he shoots, he tries stuff. Most importantly of all though, he smiles.
Keep smiling John, and we'll keep smiling with you.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
An away win against Middlesbrough, a last gasp point at Ipswich, the dismantling of Sheffield Wednesday and the latest goal-scoring return of Heidar against Preston are four excellent examples of why supporting Watford this season is proving to be jolly good fun.
The away win at the Riverside was as unexpected as it was welcome. I can’t have been the only one who kept an eye on proceedings in the North East with slight trepidation, following as it did the home horror show against Cardiff, but Malky’s young charges did us proud, and helped in no small part by heroics from Scott Loach and a determined performance from ex ‘Boro employee Danny Graham, we returned home with our first ever win at the Riverside.
Another tricky away trip followed on the Tuesday, when we faced Roy Keane’s increasingly desperate Ipswich Town. It looked as if we were going to provide Keane with his first win as boss until deep into stoppage time when, of all people, Nathan Ellington smashed home an equaliser. I don’t know about you, but felt this was a big moment for us. We had won unexpectedly at Middlesbrough and had now rescued a game that looked beyond us away from home. It’s moments like these when you realise you have a team that is battling. Working. Trying. As a football fan, I don’t think I can ask for more than that.
There is always a slight worry when you nick late goals that you may have somehow used up your quota of luck. Against Sheffield Wednesday on a memorable Friday (thanks Sky!) night, we needn’t have worried. Thanks to inspired performances by Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley, Watford played some of the best football seen at Vicarage Road for some time, and won the game at a canter, 4-1. For heavens sake, Lloyd Doyley almost scored.
Whilst Lansbury and Cleverley understandably grabbed the headlines, our own players also shone, with Mariappa getting on the scoresheet and recent recruits Don Cowie and Danny Graham working their socks off for the cause. This was a good, and highly entertaining all round performance, with the only blemish the dreadful defending for the Owls consolation just before half time.
Watford played some blinding football, zipping the ball around crisply and with purpose, and four goals is the least they deserved. Those of us in the ground and watching live on Sky Sports were richly entertained and it was a fantastic feeling to hear the plaudits that Watford, so often derided as long ball merchants, rightly received. A great performance, one to really savour.
After the Lord Mayors show. I think that’s the best way of describing what happened just a week later at the Hawthorns. Whilst I hope people weren’t letting themselves get too carried away after our fantastic Friday against Wednesday, this result soon put our current place in the grand scheme of things firmly into perspective. I wasn’t at the game, so can’t comment with any great authority, but by all accounts it wasn’t quite as bad as the scoreline suggests, but in my experience very few teams deserve much out of a game that they lose 0-5. We created chances which is encouraging to hear, and perhaps if Danny Graham had converted his chance at 0-2 the day would have panned out differently. He didn’t, and it didn’t.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Danny Graham, I voiced my concern after he missed that wealth of chances against Leicester. Strikers are a funny breed, and they more than any other type of player rely on confidence. His extraordinary barren spell at Carlisle last year came after he had started the season well, and it was with this in mind that I was slightly concerned to see him waste 3 or 4 gilt edged chances. He hasn’t of course scored since.
Bizarrely though, I’m less worried now than I was after that Leicester game. His work rate is phenomenal, and he is clearly enjoying his football. His closing down of goalkeepers and chasing of seemingly lost causes is a joy to behold and he has played a huge part in all that has been impressive about Watford this season. The goals will come again, I’m convinced of that.
So. After a heavy defeat it was going to be interesting to see how we bounced back at home to what I assumed would be a decent PNE side. Our team is full of youngsters and inexperience – a good reaction was important for our season, but did we have any right to expect it? Well, after the first 5 minutes or so, it didn’t look like we were going to get it. Both Watford and Preston seemed incapable of completing a pass, with the ball disappearing out of play and players falling flat on their backsides at an alarming rate. Not a good start to the match, and indeed for a while there I was transported back to the meaningless drudgery of our games in the mid 90’s…However Heidar was back in the starting XI and as we all know by now, things are never dull for long when he is involved. 12 minutes in and the puffin eater directed a trademark header into the back of the net, and hey presto, we were up and running.
If Heidar’s goal was a thing of welcome familiarity, the 2nd was a thing of absolute beauty. Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley combined to devastating effect, Lansbury easing away from several hapless PNE defenders before sliding a ball through to his fellow loanee who slid the ball home with precision and breathtaking ease. It’s stating the obvious to say that these boys are a cut above the rest of the squad, but they are clearly enjoying being part of this team, and our permanent players are clearly benefiting from their presence. Chants of “Sign him up” as Cleverley left the field are clearly wildly and unreasonably optimistic, but we should definitely make the most of him and Lansbury whilst we have them. We’ll be seeing more of them, no doubt, but it is likely to be in the Champions League, not the Championship.
The game ended 2-0 and we had our bounceback. We had our proof that this team of ours isn’t going to collapse and give in at the slightest hiccup, even if that hiccup did come in the form of a 5-0 thumping. They picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and made sure that this time it was they that would dish out the beating.
Tim Lovejoy famously coined the phrase bouncebackability. As Watford fans we’ve had to have it in abundance. It’s nice to see the team now have it too.