06/07: Preview: Watford
To start off with, let's dismiss a two-word phrase from our vocabulary. Two words that couldn't be less relevant, much as it might feel otherwise, much as those who were around are still tainted by them. "Last Time".
Actually, "Last Time" wasn't the unholy disaster that painful memories, Sky Sports and anyone with a one-dimensional (not Premier, not a Ship) view of football might have you believe. We'd got there, after all, and that achievement and its associated financial consequences diverted us from the lingering but very real possibility of many more seasons in Division Three or worse for a year or two. It was the decisions of a couple of summers later that led to disaster.
In terms of our performance on the pitch, quite obviously we struggled... but the parallels between the two situations, then and now, aren't as stark as two unheralded play-off triumphs might have you believe. For starters, whilst in 1999 our run to the play-offs was a thing of beauty and legend, we never quite looked simply too good for the division - as we did on occasions last season, particularly in the play-offs. In 1999 our play-off victories were breathless, dramatic, theatrical - but not as dismissively comprehensive as this time. We start from a stronger base.
As far as the squad is concerned, whether you put it down to supreme confidence, comprehensive planning, good luck or financial imprudence we've been able to strengthen our roster in a way that just didn't happen Last Time - or at least not until the ball was already rolling in an unwelcome direction. On paper and, thus far, on the pitch, Shittu, Francis, Powell and of course Foster all look the part even if Priskin is a largely unknown quantity.
And the squad that's being strengthened has a couple of assets that we could really have done with in 1999. For one thing the squad is, pardon my french, bastard quick in every department, but particularly in attack; in that regard Ben Foster's return is as welcome in maintaining our threat on the counter as it is in retaining one of England's top keepers for another season - we only had David James in the first team for two years after all. Further, in Marlon, we have a striker who is going to take chances. Another area that we struggled with Last Time. And when you have a striker that people are going to be scared of - or a threat on the counter, come to that - the whole defending thing becomes much less of a challenge also.
Above all we can't possibly be as unlucky with injuries as we were Last Time. It's a feature all too easily forgotten amidst tales of narrow defeats when we played well and awful thumpings when we didn't, imbalanced refereeing and That Win At Anfield, but we were astonishingly unfortunate with injuries. Anyone remember Coventry away? Ten senior players unavailable - for the record, Kennedy, Page, Mooney, Smart, Ngonge, Robinson, Iroha, Noel-Williams, Williams, Wright - and whilst this was the toughest point, most of those had long spells out, as did the likes of Johnno and Micah who played that day. That happens again, we'll struggle again, but so would anyone.
We go into this season aggressive and positive and ready to overturn some applecarts. Forget "Last Time". Last Time's gone, except in the minds of those that would seek to trample the very possibility that we'll do anything other than finish bottom with an embarrassing lack of points. Those people might be in for a surprise. This could be a blast...
Most Relevant Aspect of Babycare
The whole new life thing. Suddenly I'm in the same shops as people who previously could have been from another planet. Parents.