Filed: Thursday, 25th January 2007
By: Matthew Coker
Saturday's fixture gives us a welcome distraction from the weekly grind of league football to focus on the only competition that we can, at least in theory, still win.
It is FA Cup weekend and after success against Brighton in the 3rd round, we return to the Boleyn to meet fellow top flight strugglers, Watford in the 4th round.
Our opponents have had a difficult season so far that currently sees them occupying the bottom spot after gaining promotion via the play offs last summer. They have only managed two league victories in the current campaign, one back in November where they comfortably saw off Middlesbrough by two goals to nil and a 2-1 victory over Blackburn in midweek. Aside from that, the results have been less encouraging, a total of nine draws and twelve defeats has taken their points tally to just 15 and barring transfer window miracles, they are surely looking at another crack at Championship promotion next time around.
Their cup fortunes have been slightly better. They managed to progress to the fourth round of the Carling Cup after their reserves managed to get past the footballing power of Accrington Stanley on penalties in the second round and the first team then beat Hull City by two goals to one in the third. They were eventually bundled out of the competition by Newcastle United on penalties after a Danny Shittu goal had kept the score at 1-1 through the ninety and beyond extra time.
The FA Cup 3rd Round saw them pitted against League Two’s Stockport County and they disappointed in the first 30 minutes where the opposition dictated the play and even went ahead following a David Poole conversion. However, the Hornets remembered that they were supposed the top flight outfit and got their act together with goals from Tommy Smith, a brace from former Hammer, Malky Mackay and a debut strike from another ex West Ham man, the Millwall slashing, Moses Ashikodi.
Watford have yet to record an away victory and the game on Saturday will be their first time of having to travel in any cup competition this season.
Lynch the Board
Whilst we are enjoying something of a honeymoon period with our free spending biscuit magnate, you do not have to look far back in West Ham’s history to find examples of our board taking downright liberties with our devotion to the cause and our hard earned. However, even Terence Brown at his worst would not have been as downright cheeky as to try on a scam as daring as the Watford board at the moment.
It was well recorded that Watford’s Christmas fixture with Wigan Athletic was abandoned due to adverse weather conditions and the game has now been re-arranged for the end of February. The board have had the sense to give season ticket holders entry to the re-arranged game for nothing, but, and here’s the catch, all other supporters who ventured out in the pouring rain the first time round have been offered half price tickets to see the sequel.
Half price? I can only assume that is in lieu of them having seen half a game at Christmas? However, to the best of my knowledge, no points were allocated for that game and the goals scored by Tamas Priskin and Emile Heskey were wiped off the record books. I can recall us being in the same position when the lights went out against Palace and for the Mannygate quarter final with Villa and re-entry was granted gratis exactly as it should be. Time for the Hornet's faithful to stir up the nest a bit, I would think.
The Eusocial Wasp Species
In a Christiano Ronaldo style, I’m going to step over the whole player by player run down this week and save that for the much more important league game in a fortnight’s time. However, here are a few of the ones to watch for in Saturday’s clash.
The keeper is worth a mention as a player who has given good service to Watford both in their promotion season last year and throughout the current campaign. He is the on loan from Manchester United starlet, Ben Foster, who will be hoping to use the experience of the busy time he has enjoyed at Vicarage Road to eventually return to the North West and stake a claim as the first choice Man Yoo keeper.
It is possible that they may be without Danny Shittu. He was procured from QPR in the summer and has provided a set of solid and consistent performances in his role as rock at the back this year, though the seriousness of a knee injury suffered in the midweek game with Blackburn has not yet been confirmed. If he is out, this will open the door for Septic, Jay DeMerit, to reclaim his place alongside the man who has recently usurped him in the middle of the back line, veteran, Malky Mackay.
The style of football that Watford play mean that the central midfielders spend more time staring at the sky than Patrick Moore on a normal Saturday afternoon. This may be a contributory factor in the perceived underperformance of Damien Francis, the £1.5 million signing from Wigan in the summer. He had failed to win over the fans to a certain degree as they feel he does not put as much effort in as is required and that he displays a tendancy to take an on field day off on too many occasions. However, he is a skilful, creative player and he may have won a few of them over with a decent performance midweek.
Other talents in the midfield include the pacy Hammeur Bouazza who plays wide or as an supporting forward. There are several comparisons between Bouazza and the departed Ashley Young in respect of pace and ability to beat a man as well as a resemblance in terms of build, where Bouazza possibly edges it as the slightly less lightweight of the two. As with many young players, he has not yet got in the habit of performing every week, but is one to watch for the future.
Up front has been a problem after the loss of Marlon King for all but the first few games of the season. King was instrumental in the Hornets promotion push last year and was tipped for stepping up to the plate in the top flight this time around.
In his absence and now that Young has gone, Watford have to rely on a combination of Darius Henderson, Tamas Priskin and Will Hoskins. Despite Priskin and Hoskins looking as though they have a bit about them in terms of touch and eye for the play, between the three of them, they have yet to register a league goal (though the latter has only made three appearances since his January transfer). With Hoskins cup tied, it is likely to be Henderson and Priskin starting with perhaps a chance for Ashikodi to make a contribution.
Overall, Watford on a good day do play a high tempo game but there is no getting away from their attempts to play the attacking pass long from the back. Defensively, we need to be aware that their back line likes to push up as much as they can and they have successfully managed to catch opponents offside more than any other top flight side this campaign. Clearly, our ability to score goals will be dependent on beating the offside trap on Saturday (and it is a given that the assistant ref’s ears will be ringing by teatime).
A new Three Iron(s) with Eggy’s bacon
Before we look at the implications for our team on Saturday, I should give a warm welcome to our new signings, Calum Davenport (signed after last week’s preview was submitted), Kepa Blanco and Lucas Neill and wish each of them every success in their time at the club.
My only reservation with Calum and Lucas is that they have both played for hated rival London clubs, at Shite Hart Lane and in Bermondsey. To overcome my concerns, I’ve done some research into footballing rivalries around the world and have come up with something from Florence that we can work with.
Florentina are well known for their hatred of rivals, Juventus, whom they refer to as hunchbacks. When former Juve (and West Brom) man, Enzo Maresca joined Fiorentina, a group of fans were invited to his inaugural training session where a ceremony was performed in which his upper back was cleansed in an attempt to de-hunchback their new signing. An equivalent for Neill could be the ceremonial movement along several rungs of the evolutionary ladder or for Davenport to demonstrate that he could go to the club bar and buy more than one drink, in order to cleanse them of their sins in the past.
I should also pay homage to the hard work that Eggert Magnusson and the board has undertaken over the period. It is encouraging to see the amount of effort and enthusiasm that has gone into getting fresh bodies onto the park and the board seems to match the supporters desire to keep this side in the top flight. Hopefully we will all get what we want.
Back to the cup and in terms of our line up on Saturday, I suspect that we will see one or two squad members getting a call up for first team action with half an eye on the Tuesday night game with Liverpool and the forthcoming league game with Watford, as well as a need to rotate in the positions where we have options.
I would guess that the likes of Robert Green, Teddy Sheringham and possibly Mark Noble may get to take part in some shape, though we are still going to be stretched at the back with the injuries and Davenport cup tied (though I believe Neill will be available as he did not feature for Blackburn in the last round).
Although the sensible approach with our precarious league position is to concentrate on survival, we are in need of gaining some momentum and continuing to build on the goals that we have scored of late. We also need to be respectful of our Premiership opposition who were ecstatic at the final whistle on Wednesday night and will be looking to build on that performance.
In terms of predicting a score, even with our makeshift back four, Watford have only managed four away goals all season so I am going to rule out them getting more than one past us, though I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet under the circumstances. Therefore, it is a question of how many we can get and the goals have been coming of late. I’ll go 2-1 the Irons and back in the hat for Monday lunchtime.
Enjoy the game.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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