As the season draws ever nearer, we continue our look at the current playing squad. These are the men to whom you will be devoting your weekends…
15 Stephen McGinn
After a quiet start, much like the one his compatriot Craig Forsyth has experienced, McGinn was just beginning to come into his own, forming a good partnership with Jordon Mutch and Danny Graham, when he suffered his awful cruciate ligament injury. When a player obtains such a long-term injury, his stock can only rise. Gareth Williams, similarly crocked after three games in the Premier League, was the saviour we needed: a cool head in midfield. He wasn’t. McGinn was indeed starting to look good, but the effects of two years out of the game will be huge, and though he may have spent that time getting some much needed bulk, it will be a big ask to earn a place at Championship level and keep it. Having spent so long on his rehabilitation, I think the club thought they were honour-bound to give him a new contract, but I would expect to see him out on loan for at least a portion of this season.
16 Sean Murray
Promoted to number sixteen, Sean will have to go some to match up to the likes of Anthony McNamee – but I think he can do it. When he made his full debut against Spurs in January, he ignited the club’s season and almost led them to the playoffs. For a player in his first full season as a pro, the expectations on Sean are huge – and rightly so. His vision and technique are fantastic, and in a few months he showed that he can chip in with both goals and assists. More than just having the weight of the first team on his shoulders, however, he now – after the news that Watford are applying for Category 3 status of the EPPP – is the flag bearer for the academy. Mr and Mrs Murray were resolute that Watford was the best place for their son when Manchester City came knocking, and he has to show them and the parents of any other potential stars that they made the right choice. No pressure then.
17 Dale Bennett
Whilst Leo Beleck may be relieved to have been handed the Italian number of prosperity by his new mister, Dale has not been so lucky. 17. The number of death*. That doesn’t bode well for what is probably his make or break season. There is no doubting that he is an extremely competent defender. I have always said that when the ball is pinballing around in the penalty area, there is no defender I would rather have that Dale. His anticipation and bravery in such circumstances are second to none. There are flaws in his game, but for a young layer that is to be expected. His real problem is luck – playing a stormer during our fantastic performance away at West Ham last season, Dale was knocked out by John Eustace, and by the time he was back to full fitness, Martin Taylor had retaken his place. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Dale play badly, but he’s never quite been able to keep his place in the team. For my money, I’d rather he played than Fitz Hall, but that doesn’t look likely. I’d like to see him out on loan for an extended period of time – to grow as a regular, rather than a player parachuted in for a month or so. Dale is right on the bubble, all he needs is a bit of luck.
18 Daniel Pudil
It remains to be seen how good a left back Danny actually is. Sure, it won’t be too much of a stretch to assume the Czech better than Dickinson, and his pedigree is good – almost going to the European Championships with the perennial dark horses themselves, but how good he is will be seen over the coming months. As he was described as a left back-cum-winger when he arrived, he should play quite an important role in our attacking game too, an advantage that he will unquestionably hold over Dicko.
19 Prince Buaben
As I said in the reaction to the Spurs game, Prince could be a big part of Watford’s fortunes this year. Comfortable on the ball, with good movement and an almost lackadaisical style that calms things down all around him, he could fit in fantastically to Zola’s philosophy. If he strikes up a rapport with whoever is the starting striker, then he could make the advanced role in a three man midfield his.
20 Matej Vydra
More of a second striker than a focal point, Vydra has impressed with his eagerness to get involved, to track back and win the ball deep. Over pre-season the team has fallen short when it has come to converting neat and tidy possession into an attacking threat. It seems that Vydra, who has, of course, only just come into the fold after arriving injured, could help to bridge this gap, with Zola predicting that he could be a big player for Watford this season.
21 Ikechi Anya
Anya is the only of the loanees to have played in England before, and he didn’t flourish. Having furthered his career abroad, he’s back to prove a point. Should be heavily involved on the wing opposite Sean Murray. His pace will be something of a novelty to Watford fans, who haven’t seen a truly quick player since Hameur Bouazza.
22 Almen Abdi
The man who’s played where we want to be. Europe. Albeit just a game at Parkhead against Celtic, he’s been there and done that, to a degree. Has looked a bit off the pace in recent games, but having actually played for Udinese he should get up to scratch eventually, and will bring some continental verve to the midfield.
23 Piero Mingoia
‘He’s too small to be a professional footballer’ has always been a bit of a cop out, but for the last two years Piero has been too small to be a professional footballer. A fantastic solo goal in a friendly at Borehamwood and an impressive full debut against Hartlepool in the FA Cup were anomalies as he struggled to make an impact on games on the odd occasion that he was involved. But now, playing a different and concentrated style, he has been reborn. He has impressed in pre-season before, but there is a real chance that the diminutive winger could have an impact this year.
24 Matthew Whichelow
Another young winger that has struggled to make his presence felt off the bench, Matty was one of the players whose lack of playing time was baffling fans when Dyche’s ‘journeymen’ were stinking up the joint early last season. When he was brought in, however, we did not see the flair and game changing ability that we caught glimpses of two years ago. Like Mingoia, Matty could stand to gain from a new style that puts emphasis on technique and ball skills.
25 Joe Garner
Will be disappointed not have been given number nine! I feel sometimes I’m a little harsh on little Joe – I can think of many players in recent history worth more contempt than him. The truth is, he’s not quite up to it. A good worker, keen to put his body on the line – these compliments are trotted out whenever he’s mentioned, but the truth is that they are just covers for the fact that he offers very little. Perhaps he could flourish if played up front with a supremely talented strike partner, but that won’t happen in this system. It’s sad to say, because he does seem to give his all whenever he steps onto a pitch, but at the moment, I’d prefer Iwelumo over him – simply as he offers something different. Once our new strikers are fit (if they get fit), I can’t see Garner playing any significant role this season. Prove me wrong, Joe. PROVE ME WRONG.
26 Britt Assombalonga
He’s got such a good name it would be a crime if he didn’t make it. A few deer-in-headlights performances towards the end of the season shouldn’t really count against Britt. After two prolific stints at first Wealdstone and then Braintree, thrusting him into the side at home to Coventry was more out of a desire to witness a fairy tale than the next logical step in his development. But he’s got a taste now, and is clearly a talented goalscorer. Another one who will go on loan – presumably to a Blue Square Premier club, at least for the first half of the season.
27 Gavin Massey
With such a wealth of striking potential arriving at the club this summer, chances may be limited fro Gavin. He’s still too young to write off, but he needs to make his mark on professional football, even if not here. It’s been somewhat unfair on Gav that he’s only ever been on loan for a few months at a time. I said the other day that foreign players need a grace period in which to settle, the same can be said for young players moving away from home for the first time. Massey has grown up a few hundred yards from the ground, and moving to Yeovil was clearly, if his Twitter is evidence enough, not easy. A successful season long stint at a club in League One could prick up the ears of the coaching staff at London Colney.
28 Connor Smith
A big hope for the future. While Britt Assombalonga was busy racking up the goal bonuses at Wealdstone, Connor was busy making a name for himself with professional, determined and effective performances. Signed after finishing runner up in Football Next Star (though there are rumours that he did in fact win, but chose not to take up the offer of a contract at Inter Milan, leaving Ben Greenhalgh, now of Welling, to take his place), Smith has converted from a striker to a central midfielder, impressing in the last few youth cups and on loan. Could be a dark horse to have muscled in on a first team place by the end of the season, but will most likely see some loan action elsewhere.
29 Adam Thompson
Like Dale Bennett, he needs to start making some waves. Can play full-back, as can Dale, so may muscle his way in with his versatility, but should really be given a chance at some point. With such a big squad it is hard to give everyone the football they deserve, but Thompson has done nothing wrong in a Watford shirt, and has put in some very mature performances for one so young. Could be sent out on loan, but there’s only so many stints at Brentford that a youngster can take before deciding his future lies elsewhere, and it would be a great shame if Thommo did, because he is a very talented young man.
30 Jonathan Bond
When Rene Gilmartin was shipped out on loan last season, ostensibly to get rid of the rustiness that curtailed his opportunity to oust Scott Loach as number one, it put Bond in a tough position. Undoubtedly talented, he needs some league experience to give him the confidence to command defenders older and more experienced than him, and with no other pro at the club, he had to stay and warm the bench. He managed to get a few months in at Dagenham & Redbridge and then Bury, helping to keep the Shakers in League One, but this year, with Jack Bonham old enough to man a seat on the bench, he should be sent to hone his talents before challenging Almunia next summer.
31 Tommie Hoban
There are high hopes around the club for the awfully-spelt Tommie, or there were. As we’ve seen with Adam Thompson and Dale Bennett, though, it can be very hard for a young centre back to break into a competitive team. While attacking players can be brought on for half an hour here and there, young defenders are rarely thrown on for the last few minutes of a game. With three senior centre backs and the two young ones mentioned pushing for a place at the adults’ table, we’ll probably see Tommie sent out on loan, probably to a lower League 2/Blue Square Premier club.
32 Aaron Tumwa
He’s young, he’s a left back, and he’ll be Wealdstone-bound.
33 Nyron Nosworthy
What a man. A leviathan. Harbinger of the biggest change of perception since the invention of the telescope. Reacting to a threat he glides across the pitch like a gazelle let loose upon the savannah, outmuscling a striker without hassle, as if swatting a fly from his shoulder, and putting his bloody foot through the ball with aplomb. Maybe not the first defender one thinks of when composing a silky, total football back line, but he’s got the Championship defending angle down and will work on the rest. Hard to see anyone taking his place at the heart of defence, and nor bloody well should they.
34 Jack Bonham
I’ve never seen Jack Bonham play football. I’ve seen him warm up, and from that I can tell you that he’s incredibly tall, and has an amusingly sized nose, but goalkeeping wise I’m in the dark. I would assume that he will stay to work with Alec Chamberlain for a year, manning the bench in case of any Almunia-shaped catastrophes, whilst playing in whatever development matches we can scrounge of those with higher categorised academies.
35 Stephan Hamilton-Forbes
What can be said about good ol’ SHF that hasn’t been said already? He’s young, lanky, has fairly cool cornrows… Um. After a short stint at Harrow towards the end of last season I’d expect him to go out on a non-league loan again this season to get some experience. Now that we have pulled out of the under-21s league, it is players like SHF and Tumwa that will suffer. Competent development sides will be busy competing in said leagues, so the only options will be to stay and play against Barnet reserves or go and play in the less cultured Ryman Premier. And if we are going to be playing beautiful ‘continental’ football, that won’t really be the place to cultivate it.
Seemingly the great white hope on which many Watford fans are hanging their hat. Has good second-tier pedigree and already has a Granada promotion on his CV. Hey-Ho should be the first choice striker, with Beleck providing competition. And, as he says, he likes scoring goals – which is nice.
*In Roman numerals, 17 is written ‘XVII’. These letters can be rearranged to produce ‘VIXI’, which in Latin of course means ‘I have lived’. It seems a bit contrived, having wasted the traditional thirteen on prosperity, Italian augurs were clearly desperate for a manifestation of bad luck. Well, now you know. You can use that to show a bit of Italian knowledge when you’re next invited into the boardroom at Vicarage Road.
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