Blimey. So, as the season continues to rumble along, I’m please to say that it is doing so in quite an enjoyable fashion. Since I last populated these pages, I have to concede that Watford have continued to, well, concede, but despite maulings at the hands of Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion, we’re more than holding our own.
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.