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Gone but not forgotten:
Michael Chopra
Position: Striker
From: Newcastle United - Loan - March 2003
Record: Played: 5(1) Scored: 5
To: Newcastle United - End of Loan - April 2003
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A hired gun for a specific mission.

Among the many reasons to be cheerful going into the 2003 summer break, we can count the continued success of Terry'n'Ray's loan policy. Danny Webber and Jermaine Pennant may have already had a spell at Vicarage Road, but it speaks volumes that they seemed to need little persuasion to return, and that they left looking far more complete players (dislocated shoulders notwithstanding) than they had when they arrived.

Michael Chopra arrived with a similar pedigree, maintaining the pattern of borrowing top prospects from the nation's most successful clubs. It is hugely heartening both that the management recognises this as the best way for us to use loan signings, and that the nation's hottest prospects (and their managers) are happy to come and gain experience at Vicarage Road. Such a reputation might tend to fulfil itself, in time.

Chopra joined us a fortnight after the Cup Quarter-Final win over Burnley, and although Ray Lewington emphasised that he'd been chasing the Geordie youngster for some time, there was little doubt that the forthcoming Semi-Final represented a key reason for the loan from both parties' perspectives.

In that sense, the loan was unsuccessful as we lost out to Southampton and Chopra was only fitfully involved in the action. In every other respect, his month at Watford was a big plus, and in time his first senior goals coming in a yellow shirt may be no small source of pride.

Chopra's first game at Hillsborough came a little early for him fitness-wise, but even there, cheered on by a healthy and encouraging pack of Geordie daytrippers, his movement set him apart - something that often distinguishes Premiership from Nationwide strikers. Suddenly there was a prowling menace in the penalty box - H has his qualities, but prowling tends to imply stealth and therefore isn't one of them....

The positive portents were manifested clinically in the ludicrous win at Turf Moor, which saw Chopra score his first goal for Watford. Then his second, third, and fourth. Arguably better still was his fifth and final goal, an immaculate volley to finish off a splendid move against Derby in his final appearance, and only match at Vicarage Road.

He's still far from the finished article. On a couple of occasions - when sent clear against Palace at Selhurst, and again when given a half-chance by Mahon in the Semi-Final - he tended to think about the whole thing too much and fluff the moment. Such rough edges will only be smoothed off with time and senior experience. If he's still behind Shearer, Bellamy, Ameobi and Lua Lua next season, I'm sure we'd be happy to oblige...

Matt Rowson