Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Young, Gifted, Attack

Nobes celebrates the success of one of the Championship's surprise packages - Malky Mackay's Watford - currently occupying a play off position.

Danny Graham has been in fine goalscoring form for Watford this season

It's not a unique story in this season's Championship. Modest budget, youthful team supplemented by loan players, and a young Scottish manager trying to make his mark in the game.

One such story,
until recently, you could have found at Preston North End. However, with them propping up the division and looking destined for life in League One next season, they jettisoned their Scot at the helm.

The other is an altogether happier tale though. With half the season gone, Watford, tipped to struggle at the wrong end of the table, find themselves in the top six having won their last five matches.

They're the divisions entertainers, top scorers with 47 goals, and with six away victories no side has won more away games in the second tier than the Hornets. What a difference a manager makes.

As North End sift through the wreckage of Darren Ferguson's tenure, down in Hertfordshire, Malky Mackay is beginning to make a name for himself as one of the brightest young bosses in the game.

Indeed, his work with the Hornets has sparked rumours of interest from Championship rivals Burnley for him to fill the vacant managerial post at Turf Moor.

The 38-year-old certainly deserves huge credit for his side's fine first half of the campaign. The Vicarage Road job was a potential baptism of fire for the former Hornets defender, but he has risen to the task.

As a player, Mackay won promotion to the Premier League in three successive seasons with Norwich, West Ham, and then with Watford. He became part of Aidy Boothroyd's coaching set-up in 2007 - earmarked for a future in management.

He thought his time had come after acting as caretaker following Boothroyd's departure from the club in November 2008. However, he was relegated back to first team coach when Brendan Rodgers was given the job.

A few months later, when Rodgers departed to Reading, he was finally given his chance. He hasn't looked back since.

True, a slump in the second half of last season plunged Watford from a position of mid-table security into a battle against the drop. However, Mackay rallied his troops and three wins in their final five matches saw them eventually finish 16th.

A quick start this campaign which saw them sitting in 3rd after the first dozen matches was then followed by a seven-game winless run. Again, the young manager has been able to stop the rot and turn things around though.

It is fair to say, too, that while management can be a relatively simple profession when things are going well, a boss is really tested when the goings get tough. Mackay has come out the other side fighting.

It's also worth remembering that Watford's achievements are against the odds for a side with limited resources.

Mackay has been forced into scouring the lower divisions for his major signings - capturing exciting Rochdale winger Will Buckley last January and in the summer spending £500,000 on Walsall striker Troy Deeney.

Malky Mackay is triumphing at Vicarage Road despite limited resources

The free signing of Carlisle forward Danny Graham in July 2009 was arguably his best piece of business too. The much travelled Geordie is the Championship's top scorer with 15 in all competitions.

It's a total that's even more impressive when you consider he often plows a lone furrow up front - a role he has flourished in with his tireless work rate and a killer instinct inside the penalty area whether on his right foot, left foot, or head.

Unsurprisingly, like his manager, he is attracting interest from elsewhere - although he appears content at remaining at Vicarage Road for the time being.

Part of that is down to the atmosphere and team spirit developed by Mackay amongst his squad - determined to prove the critics who tipped them for the drop wrong.

It is a squad with youth at its core - from promising England U21 keeper Scott Loach through to striker Marvin Sordell.

Young midfielder Jordan Mutch, on loan from Birmingham, has been a shrewd signing and typical of how Mackay is trying to compete against much bigger and wealthier opponent

However, the influence of experienced players, like central defender Martin Taylor and midfield man and captain John Eustace, ensure the Hornets have the vital steel and nous required in the rough-and-tumble of the Championship.

While pace and positivity is key to Watford's play, being able to cope with the physicality of certain opposition and do the dirty aspects of the game is a fact not lost on a former centre half like Mackay.

This is not a side built in the image of predecessors Graham Taylor or Boothroyd though. When Watford made the top flight in the '80s and then again in 1999 and 2006, it was achieved via an ugly route one game.

Anyone who witnessed the way Mackay's men took apart then-unbeaten Championship leaders QPR with a display of vibrant and attractive counter-attacking football can testify that Watford are able to match style with substance.

Since that Loftus Road victory, they have taken apart promotion candidates Cardiff 4-1 and thumped Portsmouth 3-0 at Vicarage Road, where they had previously sometimes struggled for wins.

You get the feeling the manager will be keen to keep his bullish team's feet rooted firmly on the ground though. Reminding his players of last year and how quickly things can go from good to bad.

Indeed, even if Watford's play off challenge does fade away over the last couple of months of the season, the manager can be proud of his team's efforts and the progress made over the past 12 months.

However, in a second tier which appears more open than ever, Mackay will know Watford's young guns may never have a better chance of returning to the Premier League.

He'll be hoping in the race for the play offs that, come May, the club who boast Sir Elton John as their Life President will still be standing.


  1. Few things:

    1. Jordan Mutch is a central midfielder
    2. GT's promotion in 99 was not on the back of an ugly route one game. Whilst we're weren't the greatest footballing side on earth, there was much more to that team than the hoof. Even Boothroyd's team of 2006 was not the charicature it became in the second half of the premier league season.

    But then again, I'd be interested to know how many Watford games the writer's actually attended.

  2. Always nice to provoke a response...

    I was reading a piece recently from a Watford fan of over 40 years who, when describing your promotion in 2006 commented:

    "Most Watford fans, although delighted with the success, were less than pleased with the style with which it was achieved.

    "This time around Watford really were a long ball team. We got the ball behind the opposition and then tried to win it back in their defensive third.

    "We threw big men up and hurled free kicks, corners and long throws into the mixer and hoped for the best. The goals of Marlon King were enough to get us up.

    "The long ball game under Graham Taylor was targeted and exciting. The long ball game under Boothroyd is aimless and boring."

    Then again, I guess one man's meat always has been, and always will be, one man's poison. Diff'rent strokes, an' all that.

    As for attending games, this is Soccer AM/MW. It takes many hours of effort to be as professionally unprofessional as we are. You don't get ill-informed by doing research.

    Irrelevant. Irreverent. And proud.

  3. From another Watford fan I think this is a brilliant article. Marlon King and Ben Foster definitely scraped us into the premiership last time and some of the games I attended under Boothroyd were ghastly; now we are bringing through young British talent and attack like there's no tomorrow. Cheers for actually giving us some credit.

    You also might be interested enough to look at our revolutionary Harefield academy which will almost certainly churn out a few more Ashley Young's over the next few years.