31st December 2011 @ Vicarage Road, Watford. Kick-Off: 13:00pm
To round off 2011, Watford enter into yet another instalment in a tough string of games throughout the festive period, this time, against Doncaster Rovers. Doncaster currently occupy the second of the three Championship Relegation places in 23rd, two points from safety. Watford on the other hand, now sit 6 points above the drop zone in 18th, following a run of just 1 defeat in their last 10, and being unbeaten in 7 (However, five of these results were draws). There is no doubt that this is an important fixture in terms of standings, so Watford will be hoping to prolong their run.
Doncaster, head into the game fresh out of a 3-0 hiding against Burnley at Turf Moor on Boxing Day, and needing to put some points on the board in order to make some progress seeing as we’re now past the halfway point of the campaign. Whilst in recent seasons, Doncaster have been relatively safe in terms of fighting against relegation, this year it seems a distinct threat to their Championship status. Just over a month ago, the ‘Orns were held to a 0-0 draw at the Keepmoat, and since then, Rovers’ fortunes seem to have taken a turn for the better, whilst there were still losses against Birmingham and Burnley, they have picked up maximum points against table-toppers Southampton, and playoff chasing Leicester City. Importantly however, they have only picked up 3 points on their travels since the start of October, with those coming in a 3-2 win over Ipswich at Portman Road.
There has been much discussion about the transfer policy employed by Doncaster this season, looking to utilise the loan market to bring in experienced ex-Premier League mercenaries on short term deals to help drive Rovers up the table. Whilst this system may aid some performances on the pitch, it definitely has its downsides. So far, Chris Kirkland has come and gone, and currently on the books are the likes of El-Hadji Diouf, Herita Ilunga, Goulon, Ikeme and Pascal Chimbonda, with more likely movement to come in the January transfer window. Only time will tell as to whether this ‘experiment’ will pay off however, and based on evidence so far this term, the experiment could well be a costly one.
In contrast, in recent weeks, Watford have turned a corner, and have become a very tough side to beat. Had it not been for goalkeeping errors against both Bristol City and Cardiff last time out, and for a ‘tale of two penalties’ against Leeds, the Hornets would have picked up maximum points from their last six consecutive Championship games. However, this is not the case, as three consecutive home draws represent the reality of the situation, and why Watford still find themselves only in 18th place. Performances finally seem to be coming together under Dyche however, and if only more chances were being converted at the right end, then the ‘Orns would be quite a force to be reckoned with based on the evidence of the last 10 games. Whilst performances have improved, it is also a testament to the squad’s fitness that Dyche did not have to make any substitutes in the last match against Cardiff, and hasn’t needed to use all three in a significant number of games so far this campaign.
In recent fixtures between these two sides, there have been 4 draws in the last six meetings, with one victory a piece. This fixture is by no means an easy one for Dyche’s men, however, he’ll be looking to take advantage of Donny’s poor away form and collect maximum points that would nicely round off a highly eventful and mainly successful 2011 for Watford Football Club.
Doncaster’s Recent League Form: DLWLWL
Billy Sharp (Striker)
Sharp moved to Doncaster initially on a loan deal for the 2009/10 season, whereby he went on to notch an impressive 15 goals in 33 appearances before a knee injury spelt the end of his season. A permanent switch to the Keepmoat stadium was to follow in the summer, when he moved for £1.15m from Sheffield United. Two bids were lodged for the Donny man this summer - £2.3m from Ipswich which was rejected by Doncaster, followed by a £3.25m bid from Southampton, which Sharp rejected himself. Earlier this campaign, Sharp’s newborn son passed away, yet Sharp himself declared himself available to play against Middlesbrough two days later - a game in which he scored. Sharp has found the net 9 times in 15 games this season, and 24 times in 44 appearances for Rovers since signing there permanently. The 25 year old has had two spells at Sheffield United, a loan spell at Rushden and Diamonds, and also a two year stay at S****horpe, finding the net 118 times in 256 career appearances – certainly one Watford will need to keep quiet.
Watford have no fresh injury concerns following Monday’s Boxing Day draw with Cardiff City, though Stephen McGinn and Martin Taylor are still absent with long term injuries. Dyche will most likely opt to name an unchanged side, though speculation may be cast on Scott Loach’s position in the starting XI by some.
WATFORD Starting XI vs Cardiff City (D 1-1):
Hodson – Mariappa – Nosworthy – Dickinson
Yeates – Buaben – Hogg – Yeates
Deeney – Sordell
Subs: Bond, Doyley, Jenkins, Eustace, Iwelumo
Doncaster appear to have a relatively strong, injury free, squad to select from, however, with such a large number of loanees coming and going at the Keepmoat, continuity may be hard to come by. Brian Stock is suspended having picked up his 5th booking of the season in the defeat against Burnley.
DONCASTER Starting XI vs Burnley (L 3-0):
O’Connor – Hird – Beye – Ilunga
Stock – Coppinger – Gillet – Barnes
Diouf – Sharp
Subs: Friend, Chimbonda, Bennett, Goulon, Hayter
26/11/11 Doncaster 0-0 Watford
26/02/11 Doncaster 1-1 Watford
11/09/10 Watford 2-2 Doncaster
16/01/10 Doncaster 2-1 Watford
08/08/09 Watford 1-1 Doncaster
04/04/09 Doncaster 1-2 Watford
Thanks to benaldo (Bn), MartinB (Mb), madmick50 (M50), VikingJames (VJ) and The Red Baron (TRB) over at Viking Chat forum for taking the time to answer some questions ahead of the Championship’s final round of fixtures in 2011. Their answers were as follows:
1) What do you make of Doncaster’s performance in the Championship so far this campaign?
Bn: Crap at the start, getting slowly less crap. Someone soon is in for a tonking though.
Mb: Very poor, side in transition though.
M50: It's been poor and we deserve to be in the bottom 3. We've had too many injuries and changes to the side which has been making it hard to gain any consistency. Our new manager has been finding his feet and is still struggling.
VJ: Started off without a hope. We have improved in the past couple of months, but there's still a lot of work to do. But considering that after 7 games we looked down and out, I'd say we've done well to get to the stage we're at now.
TRB: Started poorly but were affected by injuries to key players. Now doing a little better but no consistency- we can't string two wins together and haven't for a long time.
2) Given we’re now past the half-way stage of the season, what are your end of season expectations come May?
Bn: Just outside the relegation zone is probably a fair end to the season.
VJ: I expect us to keep improving, and hopefully that will lead to survival. Ideally you don't want to end up 4th from bottom like we were last year, but I think we'd take that now.
TRB: My expectation before the season was that we'd be relegated because the Board wasn't prepared to fund the signings we needed. They've tried to find a solution to that (see below) but I've yet to see any evidence it will provide us with the consistency we need. 4th from bottom will be a major achievement.
3) Doncaster’s transfer policy this season has been one of great discussion amongst some fans in the Championship, with players such as Chris Kirkland coming and going. What impact has this had on the side’s performances, and what do you make of it as Doncaster fans?
Bn: It's the only way the club is going to survive. Small crowds, low income, a bunch of disillusioned crap players at the start of the season. In many ways it's just too good to be true. A lot of fans don't like it, but whatever anyone tells you Rovers have some quality players..and in Diouf and Sharp, easily the best attacking two in the league.
Mb: It's OK for short term, time to invest in local youth though!
M50: The new policy is a complete joke and will ensure we get relegated. Team spirit has suffered and putting out a different side every week leads to a lack of consistency.
VJ: I think the influx of new faces has been a positive thing, on the whole. One or two of them aren't as good as their careers suggest, but we're certainly a better team for having people like Diouf, Beye, Ikeme and Goulon around than we were before. Quite a few fans get all precious over the club's 'reputation' and 'image,' but the fact of the matter is, we're in a desperate situation. Staying in the Championship is important to the club, and we have to pull out all the stops to do so. If that means making wholesale changes to the team, then so be it, as the current bunch were taking us down, and I was sick of watching us lose every week seemingly without doing anything about it.
TRB: The transfer policy is a gamble but it is probably one that was worth taking, given that money wasn't made available to rebuild after finishing 21st last season. The thing is that you can't expect to hang on to players for any length of time and although some of the new men have played well, the better they perform the more likely they are to move on. As I've said, I'll judge it at the end of the season.
4) If you add one of Watford’s squad to the Doncaster side, who would it be, and why?
Bn: To be honest, I don't think anyone from Watfords squad would get in Rovers starting 11 in two weeks. That's not biased nonsense, it's probably fact.
Mb: Scott Loach...good keeper, which we dont have.
M50: I'd have your goalkeeper because ours are not good enough for this league
VJ: Definitely Scott Loach. We're desperate for a solid Championship goalkeeper. Ikeme has been brilliant but is only on a temporary loan (and is now injured) so we're desperate for a 'keeper. Sullivan has been brilliant for us down the years, but is past it, and Gary Woods either isn't ready or just isn't good enough, depending on interpretation.
TRB: I like Loach, although as an opposing fan his time-wasting does grate somewhat. Sordell is also a very promising striker, although I thought Watford's best player at the KMS this season was Kightly- who is on loan from Wolves.
5) Who do you consider to be Rovers’ Key Player so far this season, and why?
Bn: For me it's Diouf or Beye. Diouf is a class player, far too good for this league. Beye is probably the best defender I've ever seen at Rovers in years and years. He's solid and makes few errors. In a leaky defence he's almost single handedly shored up the wall.
Mb: Billy Sharp so far. His goals have been vital.
M50: Billy Sharp. No question. If it wasn't for him we'd already be dead and buried. His goal to chance ratio is exceptional. Unfortunately for us it looks like he'll be gone soon because he seems to be getting frustrated with the low number of chances we are creating as a team.
VJ: Billy Sharp. His goals and all-round contribution to the team and the club are massive. If we can keep him for the rest of the season, we'll increase our chances of staying up.
TRB: Billy Sharp is key because he has the priceless ability to score goals. I don't think we'll be able to hang onto him, but if we do it will increase our chances of staying up. Brian Stock (suspended for the Watford game) is another excellent player, whose value will probably only be appreciated after he's gone.
6) And finally, what do you predict the final score will be come 4pm on New Year’s Eve?
Bn: Hard to say. Someone soon is going to get tonked by us! If it isn't you then it's coming soon. I think we'll have some new faces in on Saturday, and they'll do nothing but good, plus Chimbonda is probably going to start, you lot aren't setting any scoring records, so I predict a 2-1 or 3-1 win for Rovers.
Mb: Watford 0 Doncaster 2 (Sharp & Diouff)
M50: 2-0 to Watford
VJ: We're not doing very well away, and you seem fairly strong at Vicarage Road, so I'd definitely settle for a point. You've beat some decent teams on your patch though, so I think it'll be difficult for us. I wouldn't be surprised if Watford edged it by the odd goal.
TRB: They're usually draws- the last three meetings at Vicarage Road have been and I saw the last two. But Rovers owe me something for the 6-0 defeat I witnessed back there in 1978. Rovers to win 2-1 with Sharp and Diouf scoring.
With Watford delivering some decent performances against the league’s higher flying teams in recent times, it needs to be ensured that they continue to perform so well against the teams at the wrong end of the table, such as New Year’s Eve’s opponents, Doncaster. Funnily enough, it’s usually the teams down the wrong end that seem to cause Watford sides more problems, however, if Dyche’s men can serve up another performance like those against Leeds and Cardiff that should probably have warranted maximum points rather than just the two, then they could round off 2011 by picking up maximum points in front of their home fans. Watford 2-0 Doncaster Rovers.
At The Bookies:
(Odds courtesy of www.williamhill.com)
You can also visit the vBookie prior to Kick-Off at 1pm on New Year’s Eve if you want to throw some of your hard earned vCash at this game.
Happy New Year!