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Middle ground
By Chris Lawton
With the cheers and delight of a barmy afternoon at Fulham still in the memory we now stand on the brink of a new season. Football never really went away this summer, with the World Cup dominating centre stage for a month. Since then, several miles of tabloid column inches have been devoted to who is moving to where next season and what odds on Charlton being relegated by Christmas. The problem is that all this hype and talk of big money still revolves around the top few clubs in England and Rangers.

In Division 1 the talk is much more reserved with managers resorting to the good old tactics of haggling out a bargain, not just turning up with a vast cheque book. In this sense, Watford have done as well as anybody to pick players of good potential for relatively small sums of money.

Enough talk of the state of our game, what you all want to know is where I think the Golden Boys will finish up this season. Well, my title rather gives it away - I think we will end up in mid table. Realistically, this season is a case of rebuilding again for the next push. We have escaped the hellish mire that was Division 2 and must now look onwards and hopefully upwards. The main aim for this season is to provide a firm foundation for the future to avoid getting into this sort of mess again. As it stands at the moment we do not have the players to lift us out of this division.

I do not doubt the skill of our players, although I do feel we lack a number of the quality players that Sunderland and the others have. More importantly, this division is full of hardened campaigners who have played a lot of games in this division. Watford lack this. Sure, Ronny has played at the top level but that is not the same as fighting and scrapping it out week in week out in the middle of winter at places like Stockport. Our squad is solid with largely consistent, if unspectacular, players who are committed to playing as a team. This will keep us up but I do not feel it will get us out of this league this season.

In GT we have one of the few managers in this league that I think most clubs would probably want in charge. He is a shrewd business man and a good judge of a player. His tactical awareness and ability to change things around if need be is worth a few points over a lot of clubs. For him, however, the club at the moment does not quite have the momentum of fifteen years ago - and even then it took more than one attempt to get out of the division.

A further concern of mine is Alec Chamberlain in goal. Now, to be honest, I have not seen that much of him play but from what I have seen I would make the following comments. He is an excellent shot stopper and on the whole organises his defence well...but he is suspect on crosses. We may find this season that, under concerted pressure from quality forward lines and midfields, Alec struggles on a few occassions. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he should be dropped or replaced, nor do I think he is in the realms of "dodgy keeper" but I am concerned that his weaknesses might be exposed at this level - something that is true for a lot of our players.

Well, I would love to be proved wrong. I think that if we have the rub of the green for the whole season we could just about sneak into the playoffs. Likewise if things don't go quite right we will flirt with relegation for a while. Mid table, whilst being a safe bet, is also a realistic position. Anything else is a bonus. For the record, I think Sunderland will win the league and teams who might struggle are QPR and Oxford. All I know is that come May 1999 we will know one way or the other. Enjoy the season and hopefully I might get to meet some of you on a distant terrace some day.