Journalism undergraduate Billy Hawkins discusses the Lewis McGugan conundrum in his latest Away From Home column
ANOTHEER weekend, another loss. Although Tuesday night saw a victory against a Bristol City team languishing at the bottom of League One, the Watford team didn`t do much to inspire confidence for the remainder of the season.
The loss to Reading was typical of the season so far; a slow start causing Watford to concede an early goal – Reading`s only shot on target – made way for a match dominated by Watford possession and attempts, with both Troy Deeney and Fernando Forestieri missing wretched chances to extend Beppe Sannino`s unbeaten start as head coach.
The misery was only compounded by Alexander Merkel – on his debut – being sent off after a performance which saw him likened to the German John Eustace.
In the aftermath of the Reading match questions were raised – with louder voices than previously heard – regarding the consistent inclusion of Lewis McGugan in the starting line-up of every match.
As an important member of the squad in terms of match winning stats – second top scorer and second top assist maker – people are liable to overlook his less than inspired performances; performances generally highlighted by laziness and an egotistical self-belief that he has the right to do whatever he wants, regardless of the outcome.
He has taken 74 shots – almost double that of second placed Forestieri – leaving him with a dismal chance conversion percentage of 4.44%. It says a lot about the current state of the team that he is a nailed on starter for every game, even with a record like that.
Another factor that plays into his inclusion in the team is the number of tackles he makes per game, as well as the fouls committed stat; in 23 appearances, he has made 1.3 tackles per game, and conceded 1 foul per game. As a midfielder, who should be all around the pitch attempting to win the ball, to only attempt one tackle per game, with it usually being a foul, speaks a lot about his temperament.
Many people complain that they have never seen him go in for a 50/50 challenge, whereas Iriney – who has made 2.7 tackles per game – plays as you would expect, attempting to win the ball, albeit in a clumsy manner.
Following the Bristol City replay – in which McGugan assisted the first goal and scored the second – the opinion once again shifted to how useful he is in a struggling side.
Considering Cristian Battocchio did not answer the prayers of everyone who called for his inclusion – he seemed to disappear in the second half – McGugan once again pulled Watford through with his undeniable talent.
There is no denying that with the reappearance of Almen Abdi – the highest assist maker with three in five games – and the new inclusion of Merkel – after his three game ban – that the midfield will become stronger.
It is clear that games are no longer being controlled as they were last season, but this should change in the coming weeks as old and new players acclimatise to the new methodology of Sannino.
Using stats to determine football matches isn`t a fool proof method, but they clearly show that McGugan has his uses; if backed up by a ball winning midfielder – someone who favours effort over talent – he can afford to play as his goal scoring has dragged Watford out of the depths of despair on numerous occasions. It is when he is the focal point of the midfield – the one required to do every job on the pitch – that he suffers.
I am firmly of the belief that he should be playing whilst Troy Deeney`s goal scoring continues to falter, but as soon as someone else provides the goals, McGugan should no longer be guaranteed as a starter. He just doesn`t fulfil the role required of a modern day box-to-box midfielder.
At least Abdi has returned from injury. His appearance against Bristol City heard the loudest cheer from Vicarage Road in a long time.
And, with him present, maybe the cheers may just continue.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com and ESPNFC.com