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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Editorials:
Lewington Out?
By Dave Messenger
 
Three bad defeats. Three stinking performances that were about as awful as anything produced during the dirge that was the Vialli season, and probably on a par with the worst of the Perryman and Roeder eras for good measure. Thank goodness Watford got some results early in the season so that we have something of a buffer going into the last nine games. Not quite a crisis, but very nearly so, and how close to the drop are we going to be come May? It's at times like these that the finger of blame starts to point and from what I heard in the seats at Loftus Road on Saturday, it's pointing straight at Ray Lewington. Certainly, there are questions to be answered by the man at the helm right now, but I'm not going to get into that debate. Whether you feel Lewington is the man for the job or not, there are certain factors which make managing Watford a nigh on impossible task at the moment.

Take a look at the players. Some have slipped into their comfort zones once again, and are well below par at the moment, mentally already on the beach and happy in the perceived knowledge that it would still take a bizarre run of results to relegate us. It appears to me that Cox, Chambers, Ardley and Webber are all going through the motions right now. Other players, and very important ones at that, are struggling for fitness. Gunnarsson, Mahon and Helguson, arguably our three best players this season, all recently injured and all thrown straight back into the team out of necessity. Add in two players in key positions who are still very much learning their trade, namely Richard Lee and Jay Demerit, both of whom are doing well in general, but have made mistakes in this run of three games and could reasonably hope to look to senior players to help them through this rough patch. Most fans would agree that Jermaine Darlington is hopelessly out of sorts, so we're left with Bruce Dyer and Johnnie Jackson in anything resembling decent form.

Elsewhere in the squad, too many of the players that we rely on to plug the gaps are not yet up the job on a regular basis, though each is capable of the odd moment of quality or the odd good game. McNamee, Blizzard, Young, Eagles and Bouazza all fit into that category. Dyche - oh how we're crying out for his leadership on the pitch right now - and Devlin are injured. Doyley is the one player who could be added to the team, but would you put any of Mayo, Smith, Herd, Gayle, Ferrell, Norville or Coleman into the side and expect any great change? Would you recall Hand or Fitzgerald and expect them to produce the goods? Would you bung in any of the promising kids like Toumani Diagouraga, and expect them to get us past the fifty-point mark? That is literally all we have to choose from.

But you can't really blame the players. You could well say that the manager should be the one to get them going. Well, to an extent, he has done so. For what it's worth, I think he's dragged enough from the players we have to ensure we stay up. There is only so much you can crowbar out of players who have little or no competition for places. Besides which, this team has a track record of pulling their fingers out when they really need to, and Lewington is a good enough motivator to achieve that. We only need two wins and a draw at worst and it shouldn't be forgotten that we started the season as most people's favourites for relegation because of the lack of depth in the squad. Had the injuries to Gunnarsson and Helguson come earlier, we might be seeing that particular prediction coming true, but as things stand, we're still doing better than Ray Lewington's fiercest critics would have expected back in August.

The bottom line is that, with one or two exceptions, we have a paper thin squad full of rejects and youngsters, cobbled together on the cheap...and at the moment, they look like it. The team is starting to show the signs of the chronic underinvestment that it's been subjected to, and the time is approaching where we have to say enough is enough. We are, after all, the poor mugs who love to go and watch our team, and at the moment, we have to settle for these recent poor performances. Three in a row is tough to bear and clearly too much for a lot of people, but until there is proper investment on the playing side there will be plenty more, and it will continue whether Ray Lewington, Nigel Gibbs, Martin Allen, Jose Mourinho or you or I are manager, and the responsibility for that lies at the top of the club.

This season, Watford have appointed a Chief Executive, a Commercial Director and a Finance Director as well. When the last of them joined, Graham Simpson was quoted as saying, "I've finally got the A-Team on board". Great news for all concerned, I'm sure. So far, the highlights of our new Commercial Director's reign have been banging out a DVD of the league cup wins over Southampton and Portsmouth and a load of yellow stuff for the Carling Cup semi-final. A great return on his salary. Moving onto the Chief Executive, we've had the genius decision to charge fans twenty-five quid for the midweek home games with Forest and Leicester, and lots of noise and hot air about a new East Stand and exciting developments that they can't tell us about. Grrreat. Then we have the fiasco with the Finance Director resigning all of a sudden - the club say he didn't want to do the hours, while he sends a letter to the local paper saying he had to go because of his personal and professional beliefs. Frankly, that is a hundred times more concerning than the question of whether or not we should play 4-5-1 in home games.

And all the while, the most important product the club has, its football team, is struggling. Does a club in such a state really need a salaried Chairman, a Chief Executive and a Commercial Director? Could we not use one of these wages to pay a player or two? When we stave off relegation this season, what will the wage budget for next year actually be? We already know the money from the Elton John concert is going towards paying back the loans taken out to buy back the ground, but the team did manage to raise extra, unbudgeted funds from the Carling Cup run, and will that money fall down the black hole as well? As the product on the pitch deteriorates further, these become crucial questions. If there is no money put aside for new players, and a few more of the dwindling number of experienced players are shown the door, then next year we really will have something to worry about. Season ticket sales will drop; at 25 a throw, attendances will dwindle as the casual fan turns his nose up at the poor standard of football; but don't worry, folks, our board is committed to building a new stand to house this stayaway support.

I know what you're thinking. And yes, you're right, Graham Simpson should be applauded for putting his money into the club and without him, it's doubtful we'd have this wonderful football club to worry about. And of course, he's a fan, and he takes every opportunity to remind us of that. But how long does that goodwill last? It seems to me that the further we get from the meltdown at the end of the Vialli era, the further we seem to get from seeing the club back on an even keel and starting to invest in our future by improving the team. I don't doubt for a second that the Chairman has the best of intentions, he's certainly no Jack Petchey, but I do wish that we could be spared of all talk about new stands and future exciting announcements and that Ray Lewington, or whoever follows him into the Vicarage Road hot-seat, could be given a few quid to improve the team, which is the biggest driver for our long-term development. A semi-successful team would keep the paying punters happy and help to avoid the club heading into even greater turmoil next season.

(15/03/05)