Season’s Greetings Malky. Your view on the season so far?
There are games where you can’t help but think points have slipped away here and there, and you end up looking at the table and thinking where you could have been if you had all the points if you should have won. But, there are also games where we had a bit of luck and got a point or three when maybe we shouldn’t have done. I think it has certainly helped that the staff all came into pre-season together and had the six weeks to prepare, as well as the group of players having the time to prepare together. It was a new group of players so we all needed to get to know each other. We had youngsters stepping up to the first team, guys coming back from loan spells and new players joining.
Then in August we also had four or five people leaving the club as well. So to have the group all together, and be able to take them away on a pre-season tour to work together, and get to know each other better, was a huge help. Also, it helps that everyone can get an idea of what we wanted to do. I wanted to get an atmosphere at the training ground where it was fun, an enjoyable place to come and people want to come to, but it is also a place of work. So it was better that we had that preparation time rather than being straight in the middle of a season.
Obviously at the beginning of the season we were tipped for relegation and at this stage of the season we are not involved down the bottom end and I’m delighted with that.
That seems to be the Watford way though; when we have something go against us or are labelled as the underdog, that is when we seem to see a true Watford spirit coming through.
Yes that’s true, and I think that shows in the atmosphere down at Vicarage Road at the moment. Before a ball was kicked this year we were tipped to go down and so from minute one there has been a really good atmosphere at Vicarage Road. I think the fans realised quite quickly the situation the club was in with it being a transitional period. A lot of youngsters have come in and the fans have given them a bit of leeway. I have always told the young lads here that the supporters will forgive mistakes, but one thing they won’t forgive is lack of effort. I also demand the same in training. Nobody here will show a lack of effort and still be involved with the first team.
When you’re out there on the training ground or the pitch – you come in with your shirt wet. That also breeds a real sense of togetherness and an effort on a Saturday. Once you give all those things as players then the fans will accept it. We can all see that the youngsters are all trying to do things properly. So the fact it was a young team starting the season and we then lost four or five starting line-up players from the team in Rasiak, McAnuff, Smith, Williamson etc, I think galvanised the group. That allowed more opportunity for young players and we brought in a couple of loan players, and like I said it galvanised the team. I think some people have found it to be a turn up for the books to be where we are at the moment. Obviously it is a half season report and I’m bearing in mind there is a long way to go this season. There is a lot of football to be played and a lot of things that could happen. We are the same as everyone else in the league in that we are looking for consistency. We want to do well on a consistent basis.
At first we didn’t get off to a flying start at home and we picked up a couple of draws but we were doing quite well away from home. Then it flipped and we started doing well at home but had a couple of poor results away from home, such as West Brom and Newcastle, though sometimes it doesn’t always go the way it should. I thought at Newcastle we played as well as we did at Middlesbrough. They are two big teams just down from the Premiership and for a lot of our lads it is the first time they had seen these stadiums, let alone played in them. Also, playing in front of 50,000 crowds is different and it is very difficult to hear the guy 10 yards away from you on the pitch. It is very different from going to places such as Scunthorpe or places like that. But they are adapting to that and they are learning as we strive for the consistency. Everyone will have their bad patches.
You look at teams and they are flying but then they have maybe three or four bad results on the spin and it changes the look of them. West Brom are doing it now, as are QPR. Forest didn’t start the season well but are going great guns now. It’s all about who can put the most consistent run together. It makes a big difference if you have a large and experienced squad, especially over this time of year where games come thick and fast and on pitches that change and are putting more pressure on the body. You hope you don’t get hit too hard with injuries or suspensions when you have a squad our size. Teams like West Brom and Newcastle have much more strength in depth and that will work in their favour.
So we have to look at looking after our boys in more detail. The staff and the players are in on a Sunday and spend a lot of time in the pool recovering trying to keep them fresh. It is especially difficult when you go Saturday-Monday like the Newcastle and QPR games. The coach arrived back from Newcastle about 11:30 at night, and they were all in on Sunday to spend some time in the pool recovering, and the following day they’re playing again! That is where the staff kick in and really show their worth. The staff are top quality and keep the players in great condition.
What would you say has been the highlight of the season so far? Surely Doyley scoring!
It was great to see Doyley score, fantastic! I would struggle to pick one highlight though. Two or three of the home performances have been great and we’ve created so many chances. A lot of people mentioned how well we played against Sheffield Wednesday as it was on Sky, but I thought the Preston game we were superb. To be up against a team with well over 1,000 appearances between them and packed with experienced players – I thought we played really well and created a lot of chances.
Winning at Middlesbrough was another one. I think that result shocked the division at the time. They were up the top and on a real roll when we went up there. We had periods of pressure on us during the game that we handled well, and the goal we scored in itself was fantastic. It was a great move.
What are your hopes for the second half of the season?
To be competitive in every game we go into. We are all learning week by week. People will try and make things difficult as we have a brand, a certain type of way we play the game. We have got an adaptability about us where we can break teams down if they try to stifle us. The first target we set was 52 points as that keeps you in the division. Everyone starts with that as the first target, and then after that it is a case of seeing what you can achieve over and above that. The next target after that is 75 points which gets you in the play off places. So the first target for everyone at the club is 52 points and we will be trying to get to that as soon as possible.
How do you feel the fans have got behind you this season, with you being a new manager and having such a young team?
The fans have quickly realised where we are as a Football Club. There is now an honesty about the club and they know that this is the way we have to be now, bringing youngsters into the team. The fans have bought into it right away. It helps that they have seen us play well at home, created a lot of chances and excitement and a lot of it has come from youngsters that they didn’t know until recently.
A few weeks previously they may not have known who a couple of our young players are, but they soon seem to be taking to them and enjoying watching them play. Some are on loan as you know, but then we have players like Lee Hodson who has a great temperament to him, he’s very calm. I had him when he was 16 when he was playing in the reserves. He used to finish school and then come and play a reserve game, so I know exactly what type of lad he is. It’s a test for the youngsters as they have stepped up quickly from the youth team and done their first pre- season with men. It takes time for some of them, but young Lee as an example has handled it brilliantly. The experiences players like him are getting this year by playing football, and playing extra time at places like Leeds and having to go back on despite having cramp, will do him the world of good for his development. Having to deal with times when he has made a mistake during a game and being under pressure – its all part of the learning curve. The biggest achievement for him so far, and a huge incentive to kick on from, is being capped by the Irish U21’s when he is just 18. His next target there is to be consistent enough to be part of the full squad. So, to see the fans getting behind players like that is fantastic and will only help him.
I think also the way the fans have got behind Adrian Mariappa, who is a very young captain, has been brilliant. Since Jay has been out he has stepped in and led the team very well. Generally the backing the fans have given us over the first half of the season though has been great. I don’t know if people realise it but when you run out at an away game and you see the band of yellow in the stadium, it gives a real boost. These people are sometimes not getting back until three or four in the morning and still have to be up for work the next day at seven or eight, and when you consider the cost of it for the fans as well – it takes real dedication.
It makes it so much better when you go to an away game and you see a number of your fans there and see them going daft when we score. It is great when you have a match like the Reading game where we took over the whole end and turn it into a real occasion. In fact, the fans’ performance at Reading would be one of my highlights for the season so far. To see our end so full – it was superb. When you go to the far flung places such as Plymouth and you see them jumping up and down when we score, it makes us feel better as you hope that maybe we’ve made their journey back just that bit better. I really hope the fans know just how much we appreciate their support.
It’s a big highlight for me, and in fact this may be a good place to show my appreciation and say a big ‘thank you’ to every fan for their wonderful support this season. I look forward to it continuing into the second half of the season.
And the big question on every fan’s lips, what is your favourite pie and what’s your favourite beer?
I can’t believe you’re asking a Scotsman what his favourite pie is! It’s a Scotch pie. If you go to any football ground in Scotland and ask for a pie they will give you a Scotch pie and they are fantastic. I recommend them! As for the beer, it would have to be something like a nice cold Corona. Scotch pie and a Corona, brilliant!
Thanks for your time Malky, here’s to three points against Forest on Boxing Day.
No problem. Can I also just wish every Hornet a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.