Columnist Billy Hawkins assesses the damage after a rumour-filled day following a solid away win at Rotherham
How do you dispel all the positivity found in the aftermath of the near-perfect opening to the season?
If you are Watford, you conspire to lose to a potential promotion rival in Norwich, and then grind out a 2-0 victory away at Rotherham – a victory required to win titles – and still bathe in the negativity of a rumoured ‘lost dressing room’ and disagreements between players and management.
The 3-0 defeat to Norwich is not worth classing as a viable game for analysis, due to the second minute dismissal of Joel Ekstrand ending the game as a contest before it had even begun. If anything can be taken out of the game, one would be grateful that it was just three goals conceded, keeping the goal difference at a respectable level at this early point of the season.
The 2-0 victory over Rotherham, whilst not a classic performance by any measure, is somehow being regarded as a worse result than the defeat by Norwich. Whilst Rotherham only achieved promotion to the Championship last season, their home record is remarkable, and they held Derby for the majority of the opening game, before beating Wolves on matchday two. To win 2-0, away from home, with something of a second-string – especially in midfield – is not to be derided, although Beppe Sannino certainly had his substitutes to thank for the result – with Lloyd Dyer and Odion Ighalo entering the fray and involving themselves in both goals.
And it was one of these substitutes who dominated all the post-match talk – with Dyer’s angry goal celebration drawing both praise and criticism.
Dyer’s shouting at the bench was seen as a display of player dissatisfaction to some, and a much needed show of passion to others. The rumours of a rift between players and management was rumoured to have ruptured in the closing weeks of last season, with the playing staff reportedly angry at Sannino for his decision to extend post-season training for a longer period.
However, tensions seemed to calm throughout the summer, as Sannino continued as Head Coach in a full-time capacity, and the team impressed in the pre-season fixtures. One would think that, if the friction between the two parties was too strong, the situation would have been resolved throughout the summer, with the departure of either manager or guilty players – with the ringleaders rumoured to be Joel Ekstrand and Mathias Ranegie.
Yet it appears as if something has gone wrong again, with Dyer reportedly angry with Sannino for his lack of playing time.
In the aftermath of the Norwich game, Sannino confirmed that he wanted to see more anger from his players, and Dyer’s off-the-bench response seems to be the perfect manner to enter a game. If the entire team shows the level of passion that Dyer did in his goalscoring cameo, there is no doubt that the team-wide performance would be of a higher quality than seen yesterday.
Personally, I think that Sannino is certainly good enough to achieve promotion with the current squad, and he should be given full control to treat his players as he wants. For far too long in professional football, players have been controlling off-pitch matters, with fans giving no patience to the management staff.
Watford have lost just one of four games so far this season, and Sannino has overseen those victories – whilst the players may not like him, he is still controlling them, and he should receive all the praise he deserves for the results achieved so far.