Matthew Crichton: After guiding Forest Green Rovers to promotion to League One, Watford hired 39-year-old Rob Edwards to be their new manager. How he has started so far and do you think he can break the ruthless Pozzo cycle of sackings?
Dan Finill: I think in the main he’s managed the expectations well. I think it was important we hired a home grown coach and certainly a promising one. He’s been able to come into the club and give us a bit of fresh energy and the way he has connected with the fans has been really good. He’s had to navigate a fair few outgoings, injuries, getting players in and the on-going speculation of Sarr, Dennis and Joao Pedro whilst trying to re-shape the squad. In recent days we’ve seen speculation of the technical director being moved on so perhaps this is a sign of Edward’s influence on how things will look going forward.
MC: Having been relegated from the Premier League last season, would you say that playoffs is the absolute minimum that Watford fans are expecting this season?
DF: At the moment you’ll find there’s some split opinions amongst the supporters. Some expect us to be 1st or 2nd, others accept we might have to accept play-offs. We all want success and with the squad we have you’d expect us to at least be up there.
Realistically teams coming down aren’t always the ones challenging at the very top the following season. I think at this moment in time, play-offs are more realistic due to the change of culture the club announced in the summer. We need to reset and re-build so here’s hoping that in doing so we’re able to maintain a challenge.
MC: Although you have failed to win away from home this season, at Vicarage Road Watford have won three out of four matches, what do you think are the reasons behind that inconsistency?
DF: Watford and inconsistency is something that has gone hand in hand in recent years! Although we’re yet to win away from home, for me it’s still early days in terms of the season. Three out of the five results were probably fair and good points to take.
We’re still yet to see a consistent starting XI and certainly not our strongest. If we get players back and in the right positions, we’ll start to see things click.
MC: In terms of recruitment, it seems as though there were vast players sold, released or loaned this summer, were fans happy with how the squad looked when the window slammed shut?
DF: I don’t think too many would express disappointment in the outgoings and in reality we probably could have done with a couple more going with them too. However, to be able to get through the window and keep Sarr and Joao Pedro was a massive plus - almost like new signings.
That said, we’ve needed defensive reinforcements for a few seasons now and perhaps a proven goalscorer would have helped in a long Championship season. We certainly will need to look at the squad in January to ensure we can compete at the top end of the table.
MC: Despite Premier League interest, Watford managed to keep both Joao Pedro and Ismaïla Sarr, is it a case of getting the best out of them until January when those clubs come calling again or do you think you can convince them to stay if you’re in the top two?
DF: We are likely to see a situation in January where Sarr will have to be sold if he doesn’t sign a new contract in the coming weeks. He’ll have just 18 months remaining so in order to get a reasonable value the club’s hand will be forced on that one.
Joao Pedro is slightly different. He has publicly expressed his affection for the club after the failed move to Newcastle. He’s certainly a special talent but another season under his belt in a challenging Championship will certainly do him no harm especially if we’re challenging for promotion.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Watford players do you think can cause Sunderland problems during the match?
DF: If Sarr recovers in time for the game and he and Joao Pedro are both on their A game, they are simply unplayable. An emerging talent is Yaser Asprilla. He’s shown glimpses of what he’s got at just 18 years old. This could be the game where he grabs the headlines!
MC: Sunderland’s Luke O’Nien is a former Watford academy graduate, making one appearance back in 2014, did you expect him to go on to have the career he has had?
DF: Luke is someone I’ve been able to see develop over the years due to connections at the club and with mutual friends. Even when he was an early pro, he’d always be the last in from training and was always working on his game. I suppose it’s not surprising he’s been very successful.
Alongside that, he is genuinely a nice person. He’s certainly done things the right way, spending some time in non-league, earning his opportunity at Wycombe and progressing at Sunderland. It will be a nice occasion for him I’m sure to be stepping out at Vicarage Road.
MC: What style of play can Tony Mowbray’s team expect to encounter and which eleven players do you think Edwards will select?
DF: We’re still yet to see the full effects of the system Edward’s wants to play. A mix of injuries and waiting to get the right players in have hampered that. What we do know is that he is likely to play a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 but he may want to change it up following the defeat against Blackburn.
He likes to use his wing-backs and get them higher up the pitch. But in truth it’s not been as effective yet mostly due to our LWB having to play on the right. A lot of the play will be dictated by Choudhury in the middle of the park to get us going. He’s been effective since come in with a 89% pass success rate but the real jewel in the crown is Joao Pedro - he’s created the most chances this season (13) which is almost double that of Ken Sema (7)
Expected Line Up: Bachmann, Gaspar, Sierralta, Hause, Kamera, Choudhury, Kayembe, Asprilla, Sarr, Pedro, Sema.
MC: Sunderland’s last victory at Vicarage Road came back in 1999, what is your honest prediction of the score this time around?
DF: It will be a close one and we’re likely to concede so I’ll go 2-1 Watford.