The second part of our End of Season Review looks at the defensive corps, or half of them at least – there were lots!
Part two of our Watford end of term report turns attentions to our defensive players, of which there have been a few this term. Seeing as there have been so many, we`ve split the article in two
Anyone who made a first-team appearance this season gets reviewed – yes we`ve made a lot of work for ourselves – so here we go…
2. Lee Hodson: 1 league start + 1 substitute appearance (0 goals)
If there was one defender at the club who was already aux fait with the kind of football that Gianfranco Zola wanted to implement when he replaced Sean Dyche, it was Hodson. The right-back has always been comfortable on the ball and comfortable going forward, to the point that his biggest area of weakness was his defending.
By the same token, if there was ever a player at the club made for the wing-back role, it was Hodson. Clearly though, Zola does not see the young right-back like that and as a result, Hodson has spent much of the season out on-loan at Brentford.
Even at Brentford though, Hodson`s first-team involvement has been minimal. With six players on loan with the west Londoners, Hodson was often the one left out (Football League rules state that no more than five domestic loanees can be included in a matchday squad).
Injury did not help Hodson`s cause either, but it has undoubtedly been a hugely frustrating season for the homegrown defender of which so much was once expected.
It is pretty evident Zola does not fancy Hodson and with a permanent switch to the Bees collapsing in January, a move away from Vicarage Road seems the logical next step for the Northern Irish international.
3. Carl Dickinson: 2 + 2 (0)
Another to have spent a good chunk of the season out on-loan, Dickinson`s Watford career peaked in the summer of 2011.
At that stage he had perhaps not been identified as the defensive liability it later became clear he was, and as the only left-back on the books, he was an automatic pick nonetheless.
A year later and Zola does not have the same restrictions his predecessor did and players like Dickinson can be moved on and replaced by Czech Republic internationals. With Daniel Pudil`s loan up (but ideally returning) and Craig Forsyth`s loan at Derby up (but ideally being made permanent), Dickinson is the only left-back definitely sticking around for now.
One would expect that to change in the near future, however.
5. Martin Taylor: 3 + 0 (1)
August 31 2012. I was en-route to the Olympic Park to watch some synchronised swimming and Taylor was en-route to Yorkshire. Cue mass hysteria.
I will readily admit that I was amongst those flinging their arms up in the air in despair and wondering ‘what the bloody hell are those darned Italians` were doing. With the benefit of hindsight of course, Mr Pozzo knew best.
Taylor`s move to Hillsborough has been a disaster, a Sheffield Wednesday friend tells me. He has been poor when playing and playing rarely as a result. Whilst we have not been perfect at times at the back this year, Taylor has simply not been missed – despite the 5-1 pounding at Derby County the following day, which went a long way to confirming that we, the angry masses, were correct.
Humble pie all round.
5. Neuton: 7 + 1 (0)
Neuton looks fun doesn`t he? There`s clearly a good footballer in there, albeit one that doesn`t want to get muddy, put a hair out of place or chip a fingernail.
Abject in the air and bullied by your big, strong, physical types, Neuton doesn`t look like he will ever truly cut it at centre-half in England, or at least in the Championship.
At 23 years of age though, there is perhaps (with some aggressive coaching) malleable material there from which to craft a good, ball-playing footballer for the future, perhaps in the Premier League.
Mr Pozzo has already suggested the most un-Brazilian-like-Brazilian ever will be back in WD18 next season, and to be fair to Neuton, he has struggled with niggling injuries, though you get the feeling that had we not had so many injuries at the back, he would have featured even less.
“A disappointing first season for Neuton who struggled to get to grips with the Championship during his short stint in the team. Only started 7 league games and a combination of toe and shoulder injuries meant he did not feature since January. Was often dragged out of position when he played in the back three and also committed the cardinal sin of giving the ball away cheaply in his own half. Often liked to try and grapple with strikers too rather than watch the ball and defend in position.”
6. Fitz Hall: 19 + 2 (1)
A real vintage Rolls Royce of a defender, the 32 year-old has had an excellent season, but unfortunately like the aforementioned Rolls, getting him out of the garage on a regular basis has proved a problem.
Arguably the best centre-half at the club, Hall has the physical attributes, reading of the game, awareness and coolness on the ball to be an automatic choice at the heart of the defence next season and even beyond.
Unfortunately though, nagging doubts remain about his fitness and those doubts are exacerbated by the fact his contract is up in less than a month`s time and thus a decision has to be made in the coming weeks.
It`s certainly a dilemma and not one I`d want to be having to make if I was Gian Luca Nani or Scott Duxbury.
“When he has played this season has looked like a very good player. Excellent in the air, on the floor and with a wealth of experience. During the Christmas period he was one of our key players at the centre of our three centre backs using his commanding presence. However keeping him on the pitch was the main problem for Hall who ended up only starting in 19 league games due to injury.”
11. Craig Forsyth: 1 + 1 (0)
A couple of appearances in the Capital One Cup and a couple of appearances in the league comprised Forsyth`s second season at Vicarage Road.
We still haven`t seen the winger that Dyche signed two summers ago, but we have seen somebody who is capable of filling in at left wing-back if Pudil is unavailable. That said, with Robbie Brady and Jeremy Helan both strongly linked in January, a left-sided player was clearly a target of the club.
Our Derby County correspondent says that the Scot did well at left-back for them and with Nigel Clough making no secret of his desire to sign Forsyth, an exit looks to be on the cards.
12. Lloyd Doyley: 28 + 6 (1)
It`s become a cliche to ask ‘what can you say about Lloyd that hasn`t already been said?` But it is undoubtedly the case. The club`s longest-serving player has re-invented himself once more and put in another exemplary season at the heart of the Hornet`s defence.
The Doyley of five or six years ago would not have coped with the change in the brand of football preached by the head coach, but now older and wiser, Doyley has not looked out of place in the slightest.
Defensively reliable – as ever – Doyley has added another string to his bow in captaining the side on a handful of occasions and another goal to his tally – that cross-cum-shot in the defeat at Bolton.
Arguably the most consistent defender at the club once again, Doyley`s superb season was epitomised in his frankly stupendous showing against Crystal Palace in the Play-off Final; a timely reminder as to why he should be offered a new contract.
Furthermore, the importance of having someone around the club such as Doyley has been highlighted time and time again this season by the foreign loanees, all of whom to a man, cite pre-existing players such as Doyley as integral in their bedding in at Watford.
It would come as a tremendous surprise and an unwelcome decision to terminate the defender`s long-standing association with the club after another uber-consistent season marshalling the backline, with any number of defensive partners.
“A season in which Doyley, yet again, proved his doubters wrong. Found himself shifted around and in and out of the team early in the season but it wasn’t long before he made one of centre back slots his own. Retains enough pace to compete with quick wide players and his reading of the game is ever improving. Has developed his ability to keep the ball also which makes him look at home with the new style. One of the few players to turn up on the big day at Wembley. And another goal too!”
17. Matthew Briggs: 5 + 2 (1)
The Fulham loanee, can in my book, count himself as a little unlucky to be as unpopular as he proved during his loan spell from the west London outfit – certainly if you`re judging a player`s popularity by social media.
He signed at a time when we needed defensive cover and after one, albeit monumental, error against Burnley he was quickly tarred with the brush of not being ‘up to it`. Admittedly, he was quite poor at Hull too, but out on the left rather than at centre-half, he showed a lot more promise.
That`s not to say he`s perfect of course, there are big flaws in his game; for example his constant desire for an extra touch and inability to put in a first-time cross. However, you can see that with some regular football and a bit of astute coaching, he could become a decent player in the future.
At 22, the die is by no means cast for Briggs and if he works under a genuinely good coach, who can coach those traits out of him, he could become a handy wing-back for someone in the future.
As far as Watford goes, he plugged a gap when it was needed. Some might argue that the gap would have been better filled by a youth product, but to that I would retort, ‘Jack Bonham`.
“Joined late on in the season from Fulham and clearly has a large amount of ability. He is good in the air and very powerful during his good forward runs. However, his lackadaisical style means he is often caught out by attackers and also wasted good opportunities going forward when in possession.”
Part 2 will be tomorrow.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know by commenting below!