There’s no doubt that Saturday’s opponents Watford have been the surprise package this season, currently riding high in 5th place of the Championship.
In the first of a (possible) occasional new series, here’s a belting low down on the Hornets by Matt Rowson, part of the Blind, Stupid and Desperate Watford gang.
“It’s fair to say that the Hornets are exceeding everyone’s expectations at the moment…
A pivotal point in our recent history came in January 2008. We had been relegated the previous season after one year in the top flight, and whilst the Rams were finding things as tough as we had, we’d been making hay back in the Championship. Adam Johnson had been enjoying a phenomenal loan from Middlesbrough, and he, Marlon King and Darius Henderson had been scoring freely to confine new record signing Nathan Ellington to the bench. As early as October our lead at the top was touching double figures but by January the wheels were coming off… King wanted out, Southgate’s Middlesbrough were struggling and Johnson had been recalled in the November, and gaps elsewhere in the side were very obvious.
Facing the stick-or-twist choice that all clubs in the first year of parachute payments face, we twisted. Out went King to Wigan, but in came John Eustace, Leigh Bromby, Mat Sadler and Lionel Ainsworth (two of whom Rams will know all about) as well as Collins John on loan from Fulham, a long term target that Boothroyd had wanted to sign on a permanent deal. You’ll note that four of the five are no longer playing regularly at this level, let alone in the top flight where they were supposed to propel us. Eustace proved a fine signing, but the other four bombed, as did Watford. Despite appalling form for the second half of the season we clung on to a place in the play-offs, and our semi-final defeat to Hull was a lot closer than the 6-2 aggregate makes it sound.
Since then, every close-season has felt like a fire sale. That summer saw us lose Jordan Stewart (remember him?), Gavin Mahon, Darius Henderson and Dan Shittu. The following summer we waved goodbye to Lee Williamson, Mike Williamson, Tommy Smith, Tamas Priskin and Jobi McAnuff. In the summer just gone, Jay Demerit, Richard Lee and Jon Harley. Re-signing John Eustace in the face of interest from Leeds was wildly celebrated.
With Nathan Ellington still in contract (!) but on loan in Greece to the end of the year, we are left with a very young, very thin squad. Fortunately, the boardroom bickering that has punctuated the same period has left the recruitment team and youth set-up unscathed. We now have a non-executive board fronted by the utterly trusted (if slightly reluctant) Watford icon Graham Taylor, a production line churning out exciting youngsters as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and a recruitment policy that’s doing a very decent job of picking up players whose value has the potential to appreciate. Only the most dizzily optimistic would predict that we’ll hang in there at the top of the division; most would take safely mid-table with both hands. Suddenly that doesn’t seem out of the question.
Our results suggest a preference for playing away from home; whilst the side certainly knows how to counter-attack, the figures are slightly misleading and would be less imbalanced had we not twice conceded late equalisers at home. Our approach is to hit teams very hard, very quickly; whilst Watford might be associated with more direct, aggressive play, the current side tends to keep the ball on the floor with lots of movement and quick passing, although the likes of Eustace, monumental as the new team captain thus far, can certainly put a foot in if required.
England call-up Scott Loach is protected by a defence that looks vastly more balanced by the recruitment of Andrew Taylor on loan from Middlesbrough. We can only hope that nobody tells Tony Mowbray that he’s got a proper left back out on loan – we’d like to keep him!
In midfield, Eustace calls the shots and has been abetted by Jordon Mutch, an 18 year old on loan from Birmingham (Rams fans may remember him as the youngster who Terry Westley moved very quickly to take to Birmingham from Derby’s Academy when he first arrived at St Andrews – Chris) who started slowly but has warmed to his role. Scottish international Don Cowie has been phenomenal on the left… more Steve Stone (forgive the Forest analogy) than David Ginola, Cowie tracks back, chases, harries, and puts a very decent ball in. He’s also injured and will miss Saturday, and whilst we’ve got away with it for the most part as far as injuries go so far it hasn’t taken much for the cracks to show – Cowie’s injury left us with a midfield with an average age of 22 on Saturday (and that includes Eustace). And we struggled.
You may have noticed that goals haven’t been hard to come by… in the quick, edgy Marvin Sordell we’ve found an ideal foil for the more controlled Danny Graham. The pair have kept summer signing Troy Deeney, an altogether more physical instrument from what we’ve seen, on the bench so far. Again, however, our squad may be about to be tested, since both Graham and Sordell departed early on Saturday. Malky Mackay suggests that both might make the game at Pride Park, but if they don’t then again we look exposed.
We’ve only played actually played badly a couple of times thus far. Of the teams that have beaten us, Leeds scored early and were then just too big and ugly for us to break down. No surprise or shame there, the total mass of our eleven must have been less than half theirs. Swansea played excellent possession football but then rocked when we went direct. Portsmouth, by all accounts, were a little lucky. Scunthorpe on Saturday, where we looked flat and were comprehensively beaten, perhaps the most concerning.
We need to get that one out of our system. I suspect Saturday can’t come soon enough. I would advise against turning up late, since keeping it tight early doors doesn’t tend to be part of the gameplan at the best of times…”
(Yes, we did pinch the idea for our site from Matt and Yes his looks nicer than ours)