Total Watford games: 91 (83 starts), 1 goals
To: MK Dons (free)
Watford fans have seen their fair share of youngsters come through the academy over the past few years. One or two have gone on to better things, some are plying their trade in the Championship, but the majority have fallen down the league pyramid, be it to League Two or beyond. On so many occasions we have been tempted to dream as teenagers have burst onto the scene in a whirlwind of potential and youthful vigour – “if John-Joe O’Toole isn’t Ireland captain within five years, there’s no justice in the world”, “this Al Bangura kid will lead Sierra Leone to the very top of world football”, and so on – only to topple once the deficiencies of their games become apparent. With some players, though, there’s no fireworks, they just fit in seamlessly and without fuss, and when they fail it’s nigh on impossible to explain why.
To say Lee Hodson has failed is harsh. He only turns 22 in October and almost made a century of appearances for the club, whilst totting up nine caps for Northern Ireland. But after a bright start that suggested that he could easily fit in at right back for a middling Watford side, he just stopped.
Now, anyone can point to the Pozzos and whatnot completely stifling the first team opportunities for young players, but Hodson’s lack of involvement stretches further back than Gianfranco Zola’s arrival at the club. Stats may say that the young full-back made 20 starts during Sean Dyche’s year at the helm, but having made 29 and 26 the previous two years the number was a disappointment, and when he wasn’t in the starting line-up he was nowhere to be seen. He made his last appearance of the season on the 2nd March but was never seen in the squad again, despite a dearth of depth at full-back.
When the Pozzos did rock up, formations were changed and hairy Italians were acquired. Some thought that a more progressive wing-back role might suit Hodson: his crossing is pretty good, and though his running style is more shuffle than a graceful canter, he could get up and down the pitch well, but it was decided that with first-team opportunities lacking, his time would be better spent on loan. No shame in that.
But I think we all expected more from his time at Brentford. His initial month-long loan was extended to the end of the season, but he struggled to hold down a starting berth – only making the line-up eight times over the course of the six and a bit months he was there, and only finishing four of those games. Not being there, I don’t know what the issue was – though I believe there was a constant struggle at Brentford with the maximum amount of loanees in a match day squad, ironically – but a player of his quality should have been warranting a regular place at that level. That he’s only been given a one year contract at MK Dons heightens my suspicions that something is up.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with Hodson’s game. Sure, he’s a bit short, but that’s less of an issue at full-back than it is in the centre of defence. He is a solid if unspectacular defender capable of playing regularly in the Championship. For some unfathomable reason, that isn’t happening.
There’s not a lot more to say. Lee is a quiet boy, to go with his footballing personality. He’s not on Twitter, he’s unremarkable in many ways, but he’s consistent and makes very few mistakes, going about his work with quiet diligence.
Hopefully, he can iron out whatever kinks he has developed in Milton Keynes. They will be, as always, one of the favourites for promotion to the Championship, so perhaps a return to the level we all expected Hodson would be plying his trade is not too far away.