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Halfway - a reflection
By Dave Turnbull
So here we are nearly halfway and they are all out there as smug as can be. The bookies, the TV pundits, the columnists. "We told you so - Watford are just not good enough".

Are they right? It increasingly looks that way with confidence melted by a parade of defeats. Is there any hope? I believe there just might be.

My pathway to salvation derives from the accumulated memories of over thirty years watching the 'Orns and the teams around them in the various divisions. In that period I have witnessed many poor runs and in all that time by far the most successful panacea has been the faithful nil-nil draw. Bobby Robson knows as much - in his second game in charge of Newcastle he stuck eleven behind the ball at Highbury and snatched the prize. Since then, mediocrity but solid mediocrity!

That's all right, I hear you all say, but Watford tried that and failed. Yes, but why? Sadly, I believe that the simple answer is that Williams and Page (or Palmer) are not good enough in the centre of defence. Forget the fullbacks - who amongst you does not believe that a back four of Robinson, Adams, Keown and Cox would not do the job?

The early warning signs came last January when Tottenham chipped in two centres in two minutes for unopposed headers. It continued on that emotional August day when Hartson won almost everything. Nine goals against in the first nine games was good but eventually the adrenaline subsides...and, besides, Liverpool and West Ham don't head the ball!

And it has gone on ever since. Many of the goals conceded at the Vic have not occurred on the break but have been achieved against a fully manned defence, often as a direct result of lost headers.

I am not anti-Williams - he has a fantastic attitude and is totally committed - but I believe him to be, as you would expect, a 'top of the range' second division defender. Gems over twenty-five in the Nationwide are exceeding rare and Leicester have already got Matt Elliott! Page has suffered some loss of form but is, I think, fundamentally capable.

We have already augmented the midfield so forget that - we've made our commitment . Now on to that most popular discussion ground - the strikers.

To start with I agree with everyone - they are not good enough. I also believe that would be true if GNW (at his current stage of development), Nick Wright, Allan Smart and the Moonster were all fit. Too early to call on Gravelaine.

I also believe that it is close to impossible to buy the answer. If Darren Eadie is worth 3m and Andy Booth (almost) goes for 2.5m, what price Watford? Jim Smith has just spent another 3m on a Belgian international so we'll keep an eye on that one!

There may well be some emerging talents here or abroad but could we truly find someone under 3m to come in and score ten goals in the remaining games? The odds are not good.

I summary whilst I believe Watford should continue to look for other forward options (under the right circumstances), I am convinced that a quality central defender is the priority. With time running out it has to be someone who has succeeded in one of the senior European (or other) leagues. That ain't going to be easy but at least the market should not be as hot as for strikers. Other supporting factors are the likely further suspensions of Page and Williams, and the possibility of playing three central defenders with wing backs. It would also be quite nice to score from the occasional set piece.

With a solid man in the middle, any of the others could suddenly look a whole lot better.

As I said in the opening, I believe there is hope, but I am convinced it must come from becoming damn hard to beat - we ain't at the moment! And wouldn't it be great to shut up all the overblown, overpaid, self-appointed experts?

(Date: 20/12/99)