Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Matt Holland's Blog 15

28 November 2012

Several npower Championship sides are surprising me in a good way this season and Watford are unquestionably close to the top of my list.

The Hornets had a huge change in personnel last summer with an almighty influx of unfamiliar overseas players arriving at Vicarage Road, and I don't think I was alone in questioning the sanity of such a radical transformation - especially on the back of a good effort the season before under Sean Dyche.

I had seen bits and pieces of certain signings but I have to confess I knew little or nothing about most of Gianfranco Zola's new players. However, after an understandably slow start they're now in the midst of some sensational form, scoring some fantastic goals, and frightening many well established sides in the division.

While I wouldn't want to question the quality of the squad, or the excellent work being done by Gianfranco Zola on the training ground, there is a part of me that also wonders if Watford's unfamiliarity is giving them a surprise factor?

When I played, most weeks I'd know everything there was to know about my opposition number because I'd played against them so many times before. I'd be aware of their favourite foot, what moves they liked to make, what they didn't enjoy doing, and so on.

Whenever I came up against a newcomer to the division or country, it always took a while to suss them out. You can do scouting reports and have them watched as much as you like, but unless you're down there on the pitch playing against these players you don't truly know what makes them tick.

I suspect this is proving to be an advantage to the Hornets at the moment. Rival teams don't know their collective or individual strengths well enough, and Watford are capitalising on it. They are like a newly-promoted side.

That said, I don't want to take anything away from Watford because they're doing much better than possibly even they anticipated. The long, cold winter months will test them to the limit but the signs suggest Zola's attacking outfit are pretty well equipped to handle whatever's thrown at them. They're a team to follow with interest.

Leeds United have enjoyed a decent week, what with the takeover going through and back-to-back wins over promotion chasing Crystal Palace and Leicester City.

Neil Warnock's used the loan system well, and one of the key men in those last two victories is my former Charlton Athletic team-mate Jerome Thomas.

I loved playing in the same team as Jerome. He's got talent to burn, and can count himself a little unlucky not to featuring for West Bromwich Albion at the moment, who are doing brilliantly without him.

For a player of his ability he should have better stats than he does. Jerome excites the fans, and rightly so, but when you take a look at his goal record and the number of assists he produces, you can't help feeling he should do better.

He was a joy to play with because he relieved pressure amazingly well. If ever we were under the cosh, suffering from a sustained period of pressure, I knew that we had to give Jerome Thomas the ball because he'd travel with it forcefully, allowing us a breather, and to get the ball up the pitch into enemy territory.

You need players like him to run with the ball because it relieves the strain of defending, and he was fabulous at holding onto it. He gets kicked a lot because of this style, but is a tough cookie who handles it fine.

Leeds United have got themselves a player of untold ability in the shape of Jerome Thomas.

Is it a coincidence that last season's League Cup semi-finalists Cardiff City and Crystal Palace occupy the top two places this season?

It's an interesting question. Personally I do believe those fantastic cup runs gave these two clubs the belief that they can mix it with the big boys, so I wouldn't say that it's a total coincidence.

When you run Liverpool close at Wembley Stadium, or beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, it gives you something special inside.

Cardiff and Palace aren't solely in the race for automatic promotion because of last season's exploits but the confidence they're expressing on a weekly basis may have started back then.

This is why it's never a bad thing to stay in the cup.

Advertisement block