Five Things that Should Happen at Vicarage Road this Summer

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I think it’s fair to say that the 2013-14 season fell below our expectations.

Many Watford fans held out hope of a late play-off push but, although there has been noticeable improvement under Giuseppe Sannino, far too many of the problems that plagued the Hornets during Gianfranco Zola’s tenure have yet to be shaken off.

By saying that, I’m not in any way knocking Sannino; the Italian has done an excellent job and achieved exactly what was expected of him when he took over in December.

But as a mid-table finish draws ever closer, focus must now shift to next season where, after learning from previous mistakes, we will undoubtedly be better equipped to make another run at promotion to the Premier League – won’t we?

Here are five things that I think should happen at Vicarage Road this summer if Watford are to successfully negotiate the Championship:

Sign Daniel Tozser to a permanent contract

Speaking of negotiations, a good start would be to sign Hungary international Daniel Tozser to a permanent contract.

The only loanee to really make an impression at Vicarage Road this season, Tozser, who joined on a deal until the end of the season from Serie A side Genoa in January, has filled the Hornets’ ‘problem position’ (also known as the ‘Chalobah role’) to everyone’s satisfaction.

With the loss of Nathaniel Chalobah in the summer as well as the prolonged absence of Almen Abdi in the Watford midfield, Tozser has provided a calming influence in the middle of the park which has only resulted in positivity going forward.

Here’s hoping his good friend Daniel Pudil can convince him to remain a Hornet beyond this season, if he hasn’t done so already.

Recruit in key areas (quality over quantity)

Rather than adopt the (seemingly) hit and hope recruitment policy that I wrote about earlier this season, I’d like to see Watford’s technical director Gianluca Nani add quality rather than quantity this summer.

Sannino’s recent comments (regarding Burnley’s success despite having such a small squad) could indicate that the Watford side is set to be streamlined, however, I believe that the squad needs strengthening in a few key areas.

I think, at the very least, we need to sign a goalkeeper to replace the (probably) outgoing Manuel Almunia, a defender who is good in the air, cover in the wide positions and, of course, a forward.

Talking of forwards…

While a number of fans seem to believe that Matej Vydra will make a triumphant return to Vicarage Road this summer off the back of a counter-productive loan spell at West Bromwich Albion, I simply can’t see it myself.

The Czech Republic international made no secret of his desire to play in the Premier League before his eventual switch to the Baggies last summer and, while he hasn’t set England’s top tier alight since then, I’m sure the soon-to-be out-of-contract forward will continue to generate interest when the current campaign ends.

Watford would welcome back the Championship’s 2012-13 Player of the Season with open arms but should Vydra continue to seek a future away from Vicarage Road, a forward with pace who plays on the shoulders of opposing defenders – a poacher, if you will – is a must.

Reducing number of players coming through the ‘revolving door’ will bring some stability within the squad while I think it’s also important that the Hornets do their business as early as possible, so that the players can have the maximum amount of time to get to know each other during pre-season.

Scott Duxbury seemed to back up those thoughts during a recent interview with the Watford Observer, saying: “Many of the players that joined the squad last year will have gained invaluable Championship experience and it’s important we build on this.

“Clearly we have to learn from some of the mistakes we have made this season and there are certain players and player profiles which we will look to add to the squad in the summer.

“Like any squad there will be fine tuning and movement but the core of the squad is there and stability is the key word.

“If we do that then we will have a very competitive squad next season.

“We are learning from the mistakes, we are learning from the experiences and it is only a matter of time before we have a squad which has the necessary experience and is very competitive and we will achieve what we want to do.”

Keep hold of Troy Deeney

As I’m sure you are all aware, Deeney has scored 20 goals in consecutive seasons in the Championship, a feat that will almost certainly attract the attention of a number of Premier League clubs in the summer.

In my opinion the Hornets must keep hold of one of their stand-out players if they are to stand a chance at winning promotion.

He can be replaced, sure, but let’s not forget that Deeney also counts towards the quota of six homegrown players in a matchday squad.

Watford will be expecting offers for the forward in the summer and head coach Giuseppe Sannino has previously expressed his view that he deserves to play in the top tier.

Not too long ago, the Italian said: “He is a good player and it is normal that he would have the attention of Premier League clubs. In my opinion, he deserves to one day play in the Premier League.”

The recruitment model of the Hornets’ owners, the Pozzo family, is to develop players and then sell at a perceived optimum price and the owners will have a decision to make as to whether they want to try to retain his services for their promotion push next season or sell if a good enough offer is received. Personally, I’d say an offer in the region of £7 million will convince them to sell.

And while I don’t doubt that Deeney is happy at Watford, I get the impression (from reading some of his posts on Instagram and Twitter) that he would bolt for (Premier League) pastures new if the opportunity arose.

You can’t blame a player for wanting to play at the highest level, but a part of me likes to think that we’ve earned Deeney’s loyalty by standing by him during his prison sentence.

Another 20-goal season from the forward would certainly enhance the Hornets’ promotion push during the 2014-15 campaign, and it would also increase the player’s valuation even further. A win-win situation, perhaps?

Have a productive pre-season

Much has been made of the players’ fitness lacking somewhat under Zola, with many fans blaming it for the current trend of conceding late goals, so a full pre-season should give Sannino the chance to eradicate any lingering issues.

After making evident progress since taking over in December last year, the Italian will also be afforded time to get some new ideas across.

He’s stated before that his preferred formation is 4-4-2, but whether Sannino decides to make the switch from 3-5-2 remains to be seen.

Continued off-pitch improvement

This isn’t so much something I hope will happen at Vicarage Road this summer; we’ve already seen evidence that it’s going to happen.

Oh my goodness! We’re going to have a four-sided ground again!

With this gesture the Pozzos will have established themselves, not as the foreign businessmen destroying the ‘soul’ of our club that many outside the club would have them portrayed as, but as our Italian knights in shining armour that most of us inside the club always knew they were.

And it doesn’t stop there; Watford are in discussions with Hertsmere Borough Council regarding the redevelopment of the club’s training ground facilities – which would include a medical centre and rehabilitation pool.

New changing rooms, offices and a gym would also be built as part of the work at London Colney, which is owned by University College London and leased on a long-term basis by the Hornets.

Work has already started on two new ‘stadium-quality’ pitches, costing around £500,000, on the site, which should be completed in time for pre-season.

So while the 2013-14 season has not quite gone to plan on the pitch, the Pozzos have brought much-needed stability to Watford FC and, what’s more, they continue to build the infrastructure around the club in a self-sufficient way whilst chasing promotion to the Premier League.

I think we could be in for some exciting times ahead. Forza Watford!

What’s causing the Hornets’ stoppage-time struggles?


Watford’s inability to hold on to a lead hit a new low on Saturday when Martyn Woolford’s stoppage-time strike earned Millwall a share of the points at the Den. This is far from the first time the Hornets have surrendered a winning lead this season, so what’s going on and why are we so poor away from home?

Playing under Gianfranco Zola last season, Watford were much stronger away from Vicarage Road; utilising an attacking style of football that created chances by the dozen and converted them (seemingly) at will. It makes you realise just how much has changed since then.

So what’s gone wrong? Personally, I think confidence plays a massive part winning a game of football. Last year the players had a belief and togetherness about them that kept the club going throughout the campaign, that’s not to say that there weren’t sticky patches (Wolves away springs to mind), but the team seems to lack any belief in the final few minutes which has become extremely difficult to watch.

Despite the vast improvement under Giuseppe Sannino, all too often the Hornets find themselves in a commanding position away from home only to throw it away in the stoppage-time.

I go into every Watford game with a fresh sense of enthusiasm so it’s incredibly frustrating to see Watford retreat so drastically with the game in the balance. Of course, you should expect the losing side to ‘have a go’ in the final few minutes, that goes without saying, but when Watford defend so deep in the latter stages it’s simply inviting pressure from the opposition.

Is Sannino instructing his players to sit back and defend their lead? Or are the players so completely devoid of any confidence that it just happens naturally? Tactically, the deeper you drop the more prone you are pressure, and to individuals making costly mistakes. To be honest, though, I feel that the problem is less tactical and more in the players’ heads.

Psychologically, the team looks deflated and I can’t help but feel there seems to be a lack of effort and concentration.

Before Woolford’s equaliser on Saturday, Troy Deeney had an easy opportunity of booting the ball up the pitch in order to waste a few more valuable seconds, but he completely fluffed it. That mistake allowed the ball back into the Hornets’ penalty area, which in turn led to the Millwall forward being given far too much time and space on the ball to get a shot away. Almunia’s attempted save was poor, I’m not denying that, but the simple fact is that the defence would have had time to regroup had the players not panicked whilst clearing their lines.

That really was a bitter pill to swallow for the fans who, less than 10 minutes earlier, were celebrating jubilantly as Almen Abdi looked to have secured Watford all three points and Sannino seemed to pull no punches during his post-match interview.

“What is disappointing me is that when you score two minutes from the end you must win the game,” said the Italian.

“I’m not shocked. I’m angry because it’s happened again.

“It’s happened many times. If you take away all of the stoppage-time from this season, we could be much higher in the table.”

And he’s right, the statistics don’t lie: Watford have surrendered 12 points from winning positions in the last 10 minutes of games this season and 8 points in stoppage-time alone.

You could argue that there’s been a slight overreaction about how many late goals the Hornets have conceded. It’s just part of football, right?

Watford have also gained points during the closing stages of games, but not to that extent; the Championship table really should look a lot different for Sannino’s men. Add the eight points dropped in stoppage-time to the Hornets’ current haul and they’d be sat in sixth with very real play-off credentials.

Our all-too-frequent capitulation during the last 10 minutes could also be attributed to player fitness. After Zola’s resignation in December there were strong rumours of his leniency regarding that aspect of training which would surely have been a contributing factor to our late-game lethargy.

You could also argue that with losing Matej Vydra and Nathaniel Chalobah (and Abdi for the majority of the season), we aren’t quite able to recreate the counter-attacking pace that last season’s side were know for, giving the defence more of a reprieve, but a lack of goals has hardly been the problem – our goal difference of +16 is good for fourth-best in the Championship – it’s the defending of the leads which is letting us down.

It’s not all been doom and gloom for the Hornets, as the Vicarage Road outfit ended a 14-game wait for an away win by beating Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 at Hillsborough a few weeks back.

After going into half-time with a two-goal advantage, I quickly cashed out my bet on Watford using the William Hill app at half time, naturally expecting the worse. In a refreshing change, however, we came out firing on all cylinders, quickly putting the game to bed with another two goals, albeit against some pretty pedestrian Wednesday defending.

I thought that the win against the Owls showed what we can do to teams on the break when we really want to, but I’d like to see more concentration and passion from our team to really fulfil the potential that this current squad undoubtedly possesses.

So what’s the reason for surrendering leads so late in games? I think it’s a combination of player fitness (which stems from Zola’s reign) and, more often that not, the mentality of the players.

A team chasing the game has more to gain than they do to lose in that situation and although the Hornets are probably instructed by Sannino to retain the ball and push higher where possible, the fact that the opposition are pushing more men forward during the closing stages is naturally going to invite pressure. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch, but until the players get over it psychologically, I fear it will continue to happen. I do feel, however, that a full pre-season under Sannino will work wonders for the side.

We continue to take decent numbers away despite enduring a largely disappointing season and our travelling supporters always give the team the encouragement that they need. Pleasingly, we’ve sold out our allocation for QPR on Easter Monday. I’ll be there and I can only hope the Watford players will do us proud next week and bring back the three points the long suffering away fans deserve.

Troy Story: The remarkable transformation of Troy Deeney

Troy Deeney signed for Watford on the opening day of the 2010-11 season. The news was buried underneath previews and subsequent celebrations of an unlikely 3-2 win at Norwich City.

Despite the evident need of a striker to boost the squad, Danny Graham scored the first two of his 27 goals for season that night and the most recent of the home-grown players to break through, Marvin Sordell, impressed alongside him.

As early as that Friday night, after the Norwich game, questions were asked of where Deeney would fit in – those questions rumbled on for weeks and months. The Graham and Sordell partnership continued to excel and if a lack of form or injury struck, Will Buckley, Stephen McGinn or loanee Andi Weimann were often called upon to deputise. Deeney was predominantly used off the bench or out wide where he clearly wasn’t comfortable.

Despite clear glimpses of being a useful target man, Deeney failed to really make his mark on the team and the division. It was a commonly held view that Deeney may not last very long at Vicarage Road, that in two or three years’ time he would be a laughable memory. “Remember that Deeney? He was useless.” The transformation, barring one memorable hiccup, has been remarkable. Deeney on Saturday became the first Watford player since 1961 to score 20 goals for the club in consecutive seasons; the stuff of legend.

Deeney’s imprisonment, or “going away” as he himself puts it, proved a watershed moment in his Watford career.

Despite a consistent run in the team under Sean Dyche, as a forward, ensuing by far his best goal scoring run in a yellow shirt to that point, Deeney has since spoken regretfully of his attitude throughout that period. He feels that had his approach to his first two seasons at Vicarage Road matched that of his next couple, he could well have a record of one goal every two games for the Hornets.

The Hornets’ 2011-12 goal of the season – his wonderful, chipped winner at home to Ipswich Town – was demonstrative of his talent and by the end of that season Watford fans were convinced of his abilities to play a major role in the future. But Deeney himself knew that he could do better and vowed to do so whilst locked away that summer.

Despite the opinion of many, on moral grounds, that he should never play for the Watford again, the club correctly decided to give him another chance. The Birmingham-born forward found new motivation, also inspired by the death of his father, and used his time inside to get fitter and stronger than ever in a bid to prove himself to the new regime that had engulfed the club throughout the summer of 2012.

New manager Gianfranco Zola liked what he saw stating that Deeney was ‘just the right player’ for his team, and Deeney scored in his first start of the season at Huddersfield Town and never looked back as he and the team bid to prove a number of doubters wrong.

His goals and herculean efforts soon saw him become the club’s talismanic figure. His relationship on the pitch with strike partner Matej Vydra and midfielder Almen Abdi stimulated, without exaggeration, some of the most exciting and fluid football in the history of the club. The third goal away at Brighton, finished magnificently by Vydra but created by Abdi and Deeney, sent shock-waves through the division with its breath-taking quality.

In a squad full of foreign talent, many of whom were making slow progress with English, Deeney was often a crucial link between the fans and the dressing room. Social media initiatives such as ‘Sleep Cam’, in which he photographs his sleeping team-mates during the journey to away games and mercilessly posts them on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, adhered himself to supporters further. A hilarious video he filmed with Fitz Hall before the play-off final, critiquing their team-mates’ dress sense and featuring a superb imitation of Manuel Almunia’s team talks, had the same affect, while his honest approach to interviews also proves him to be a very ‘football-intelligent’ player.

Despite agonisingly missing out on promotion, Deeney had totally turned around his Watford career; one of the first names on the team sheet, star performers Vydra and Fernando Forestieri had to be rotated to accommodate him in the team every week, he scored not only in huge quantities, but also an abundance of quality. But it was that goal in the play-off semi-final second leg at Vicarage Road last season, which will go down in the history of the club and makes Deeney a Watford legend, wherever his career takes him from here.

The emotional swing from Anthony Knockaert going down ‘softly’ inside the area to a minute later when Deeney’s ferocious strike hit the net is unprecedented. The role of a number of his team-mates’ contribution to the goal, Ikechi Anya, Forestieri and a lung-busting run from Jonathan Hogg, cannot be forgotten but Deeney stole the headlines to end his personal fairy-tale season.

Despite his disappointing performance at Wembley, he came third in season awards, behind the aforementioned Abdi and Vydra. As his name echoed around the Vic that afternoon and a group of fans joyfully carried him from one side of the pitch to the other, one could not help but remember where he had come from and how extraordinary the manner of his turnaround was.

And his 19th league goal of the season on Saturday, the 20th followed a matter of seconds later, was yet more proof of the quality centre-forward that he has become. Deeney brilliantly put Kirkland on his backside with a classy dummy before nonchalantly rolling the ball into the empty net. Then as he tapped in that 20th minutes later, he made Watford history.

In a disappointing season, given the expectations back in August, Deeney has raced to 20 goals even quicker than a year ago and now has his eyes set on more. It is quite extraordinary to think that the man who scored only four goals in his first season at Vicarage Road and was often shafted out on the wing by Malky Mackay has come roaring back and will now go down in the club record books for all the right reasons.

He is adored by us and feared by opposition. In the way that we stuck with him, it would be lovely to think that Deeney will ignore lucrative offers from above and stick with us in order to lead our eventual charge towards the Premier League.

Did the Pozzos underestimate Watford’s Championship challenge?

Much has been made of the Pozzo family since the takeover of Watford for an undisclosed fee in the summer of 2012 and it is no secret that the goal is for the Hornets to become a sustainable Premier League club within the next five years.

The initial euphoria of making it to the Championship play-off final last season was quickly tarnished with a disappointing performance at Wembley and, 10 months later, the Hornets still seem to be suffering a hangover from that 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.

Have the Pozzos underestimated Watford’s Championship challenge? How has their ambitious expansion into English football gone so far and what can we learn from fellow Pozzo-owned sides Udinese and Granada?

When Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo bought a struggling Serie A side Udinese in 1986 their fortunes increased drastically. Despite a few hiccups on the way – a betting scandal in 1986 led to two relegations before allegations of match fixing followed in 1990 – they are now a recognised club in Italy’s top tier.

This resurgence was mainly down the Pozzos’ shrewd business decisions. Buying young, relatively unknown talent and developing them before selling them on for profit, making the most of an extensive scouting network that brings in talent from all over the world.

In perhaps the most famous example of the Pozzos’ methods in action, Udinese bought Chilean midfielder Alexis Sanchez from Deportes Cobreloa in 2007 before selling him to FC Barcelona four years later for a profit of over £20 million. The money from such transfers is also reinvested back into the club.

The Pozzo family acquired a second club, Granada, in the summer of 2009 with miraculous results. Under the Pozzos’ stewardship, the Spanish club climbed from the third tier to La Liga in just three seasons, achieving their final promotion with an away goals win against Elche in the Spanish equivalent of the Championship play-offs.

Granada’s on-field success was accomplished using the same method that Watford are currently employing at Vicarage Road; a mixture of current first-teamers infused with an influx of fringe players from parent club Udinese.

In fairness it seems to have worked tremendously as after gaining promotion in the summer of 2011, the Andalusian outfit managed to survive in La Liga following a 17th place finish. They finished with a little more breathing space after the 2012-13 season – achieving a 15th place finish – and are currently sitting comfortably in mid-table at the time of writing.

The Pozzos have achieved success with a patient, sustainable approach to tackling the difficulties of running a football club. Obviously it’s far from an easy task but their confidence in winning promotion with Watford was surely born from previous triumphs.

The impact of the Italian revolution on our beloved club in such a short space of time has been overwhelmingly Pozzotive (sorry, I had to say it).

The signings attracted to Vicarage Road are leaps and bounds ahead of the signings made by the previous regime and the style of football, on the whole, has been a joy to behold; last season in particular was the best I’ve seen in terms of quality and entertainment.

It would be fair to say that this season has not quite worked out how we expected it to, which resulted in Gianfranco Zola’s resignation and another Italian being brought in as his replacement in Giuseppe Sannino.

The appointment of Sannino has resulted a complete change in tactics; going from an attack-minded mentality to a more defensive approach which, on the back of a number of mistakes, was definitely required and based on our current home form (five straight league wins without conceding a goal) I think it’s worked out very nicely.

A number of Watford fans initially questioned the Pozzos’ decision to replace Zola with the relatively unknown former Chievo boss. But, while there are still some question marks regarding the limits of Sannino’s capabilities, I feel they have once again shown us that they know exactly what’s best for the club.

I don’t think there’s much doubt in the majority of fans’ minds that the Hornets can win promotion to the Premier League in the not too distant future, but do the Pozzos have the power and resources to keep us in the richest league in the world? I guess only time will tell.

Success in the Premier League is more often than not based on one of two things: money (and a lot of it) or a proven history of developing players capable of playing at the highest level (Everton and Southampton spring to mind). Watford have neither in great abundance.

As we are all aware by now, the ‘Pozzo model’ does not involve overspending on transfers or players’ wages, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One thing I will say, though, is that the Premier League is a demanding environment.

If Watford are to succeed in the long-term, the mix of youth development and transfers has to be spot on, which is worrying, based on the all too frequent disappointment of technical director Gianluca Nani’s imports.

I’d say the youth development at Vicarage Road is adequate – given that over 50 have come through the Harefield Academy to play first-team football – even if only Ashley Young is the only one to really make a name for himself in the Premier League.

My worry is that if the Hornets do make it to the top tier, Udinese’s fringe players will not be enough to keep them there.

Sure, we’ve struck gold a couple of times (Matej Vydra, Fernando Forestieri and Gabriele Angella spring to mind) but on the whole it’s going to cost us dearly if player recruitment isn’t addressed – not only this coming summer but further down the line.

As a Watford fan, of course I want my side to do well but I fear the Pozzos may have underestimated just how difficult the challenge will of getting out of the Championship can be, never mind staying competitive in the Premier League.

I think the Pozzos expected the arrivals of Diego Fabbrini, who has a full international cap for Italy, and Davide Faraoni who was bought from Inter Milan for a reported £5 million would be enough to get us promoted this season, however we’ve learnt the hard way that all the Championship doesn’t work like that.

The signings made during the January transfer window had more than a hint of panic buying to them. Although Daniel Toszer, in particular, has proved to be an astute pick-up who we surely must try to sign in the summer, are the recent arrivals a sign that the management are starting to worry?

When asked recently about player recruitment Watford’s chief executive Scott Duxbury told the Watford Observer: “Many of the players that have joined the squad this season will have gained invaluable championship experience, and it’s important we build on this.

“Clearly we have to learn from some of the mistakes we have made this season and there are certain players and player profiles which we will look to add to the squad in the summer.”

Effectively, Duxbury is conceding that player recruitment has been poor, but reassuringly, the club are learning from their mistakes.

While the priority must remain on gaining promotion from the Championship whether that’s this year, next year or even the year after that, I do believe that if we do achieve that goal the Pozzos will keep us there.

Success is rarely instant, it wasn’t with Udinese, it was perhaps more so with Granada which could be what we based our initial expectations on, but the Italians are here for the long haul and I have confidence they’ll do things the right way given time.

The Premier League is the most lucrative in the world and the Pozzos won’t want to miss out on that – first and foremost they are businessmen. Personally, I find it difficult to believe they have any particular love for our club; it’s more likely that they see it as a great business opportunity, but who’s complaining?

The stability the Pozzos have brought to Watford both on and off the pitch literally saved the club, but to know that we genuinely have ambitions of becoming an established Premier League side is incredible.

We owe the Pozzos our support and despite the current campaign not exactly turning out as expected, I believe we need to put our trust in them too.

Are they happy with what’s happening at Vicarage Road? I couldn’t tell you. I imagine they’ll be pretty frustrated with how this season has gone, yet I can only see them giving Watford the resources to have a proper crack at winning this league next season. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be a rocky road but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’ll leave you with another re assuring extract from Duxbury: “We are learning from the mistakes, we are learning from the experiences and it is only a matter of time before we have a squad which has the necessary experience and is very competitive. We will achieve what we want to do.”

Forza Watford!

McGugan struggling to make an impact at Vicarage Road

Lewis McGugan has divided opinion amongst Watford fans like no other this season.

Demonstrating an infuriatingly lackadaisical approach, McGugan has been virtually ‘undroppable’ throughout the reigns of both Gianfranco Zola and Beppe Sannino despite being one of many who failed to abort the appalling home form in the autumn. Zola’s final game at home to Sheffield Wednesday is the only game this season in which McGugan has not started when fully fit and available.

Many will point to the fact that the summer signing has been directly involved in a high proportion of the team’s goals this season. He has scored seven and has four assists in his 27 appearances, which, admittedly is not such a bad effort for a midfielder in a struggling team. But these stats alone are far from enough to paint the picture of a player.

McGugan, in the process of scoring seven goals, has taken 111 shots – many of which have been met with exasperated gasps from the Rookery as the ball sails miserably towards to row Z yet again. Often there is a better option available than a speculative effort from distance and too often, he will turn it down.

His reputation as a set piece specialist has been dismantled. His impressive strike against Nottingham Forest back in August which, irritatingly, enhanced his creditability as someone with some sort of dead-ball capability for far longer than was merited, is the only occasion in which he has found the net from a direct free kick.

The midfielder dropped a free-kick on the head of Gabrielle Angella at Bournemouth with unrecognisable panache but these two examples, and a poorly delivered corner that was scrappily turned in by Davide Faraoni in the FA Cup replay against Bristol City, aside, he has failed to make any of his numerous set pieces count. A McGugan corner these days is tantamount to an opposition goal kick, such is the time and ease with which the defender on the near post can clear the ball. It’s like clockwork.

And as the ‘McGugan free-kick hits the wall’ count continues to escalate, we will be left asking: can’t someone else have a go?

McGugan’s ‘inconsistency’ is much maligned, but in reality the games in which he has imposed himself the way his obvious talent suggests he should are few and far between. He has serious game-changing ability, ability which prompted Nottingham Forest team-mate Andy Reid to brand him the ‘best player outside the Premier League’ last April, yet he shows it so rarely that to call it inconsistent would be far too complimentary. If he grabbed more games by the scruff of the neck, the home game against Doncaster in September an example of this, scoring twice in a 2-1 win, then he might well go close to living up to Reid’s billing.

However, when Watford have needed a spark to unlock the opposition – an attribute that McGugan undoubtedly possesses – he has simply failed to stand up and be counted.

He scored one of his long-range ‘specials’, a trait which we had heard much about from his Forest days of and seen on various YouTube clips, despite very little evidence them actually being a ‘speciality’, at home to Derby in October but failed to make his mark in the home games against Leicester and Yeovil – two 3-0 defeats. The midfielder has invariably gone missing against top teams and in important moments when we have needed somebody with some creativity to come to the fore. In games against Reading, Wigan, Brighton, Leeds, QPR and others, he has been toothless. Fernando Forestieri is an example of a player this season who has noticeably gone the other way, standing out as a class act in an average side.

McGugan has the ability to run with the ball, has a good passing range and an obvious eye for goal. But his poor decision-making, his insistence on coasting through games (seemingly enjoying his image as a mercurial talent who can deceive opponents by playing the game to a high standard without making it look as though he has to work hard (the Matthew Briggs syndrome)), his ‘flaky’ attitude to big tackles and his inability to make an impact on a game when his team really need him often render his positive attributes totally pointless. His Championship background and experience may have allowed him more time than other foreign signings, but in truth he has shown the level of application that you would expect from someone who has no experience in this hectic division.

The ‘luxury’ of his occasional wonder-goal or decent delivery is not worth a regular place in the side in comparison to the industry and brisk tempo that Cristian Battocchio and Sean Murray bring to the team. The Hornets have made club history largely without him, winning six consecutive home games without conceding. In the first of those, the aforementioned FA Cup replay against Bristol City, McGugan started and put in one his rare positive performances, scoring one and assisting the other -but this was against lower league opposition.

Battling performances in the second half at AFC Bournemouth, Manchester City, Leicester City and in a number of recent home victories may not have been possible without three central midfielders who will run and run for the entire 90 minutes. Admittedly insipid efforts at Yeovil Town and Bolton Wanderers may have benefitted from a sprinkle of ‘McGugan magic’, but in the main part we have not struggled in the slightest bit without him.

McGugan is a player in there which could undoubtedly aid us in our ambition to eventually reach the Premier League but if he doesn’t deliver his best far more often, he is in danger of joining Neuton, Jean-Alain Fanchone and Steve Leo Beleck in the scrapbook of forgettable Pozzo acquisitions.