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Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Focus: Watford fan Mike claims he’s never seen a more disinterested group of Watford players!

We spoke to Watford fan Mike Parkin of The From The Rookery End Podcast ahead of today’s game to chat about what Sunderland can expect from Chris Wilder’s struggling side. Which players should we be wary of?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

A 2-2 draw with Sunderland resulted in Rob Edwards losing his job as Watford manager back in September - looking at how well he is doing with Luton do you wish the club had stuck with him?

Mike Parkin: Regardless of how Rob Edwards is doing with our friends up the road, Watford supporters crave some sort of stability.

There have been two Head Coaches since Rob Edwards, and none of them have been able to mould this squad into anything approaching a coherent team; let alone a competitive one.

The narrative that Watford should have stuck with Edwards as he has that lot in the Play Offs is a tempting one to run with, but the reality is that at Kenilworth Road he joined a club with a clear structure, culture and identity, along with a squad of players that are committed to the shirt and to each other.

The exact opposite is true at Vicarage Road, so never mind Rob Edwards, the Hornets could have a cross between Pep, Alex Fergsuon and Arsene Wenger in charge and they’d still be in this mess.

The next man to take the reins looked to be an excellent appointment in Slaven Bilic, what factors resulted in his sacking in March?

MP: Bilic delivered a couple of notable victories, but apart from that was hamstrung by the same issues that have lead to the Head Coaches before and after him failing in the same way.

Watford simply don’t have players that are able or willing to perform together as a team. The squad is a disparate group of individuals, many of whom are on loan or counting down the days until their Vicarage Road departure.

Until the recruitment approach is overhauled completely, and until the ownership recognise the mistakes they’ve made that have lead to this point, no Head Coach will be able to deliver.

Watford are currently in a very, very steep decline and unless the owner recognises the reasons why, we’ll be brushing up on our League One guidebook very, very soon.

Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Jewison Bennette scored a late equaliser when the two sides met back in September.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The man currently in charge is Chris Wilder, whose results haven’t been as what may been expected, do you think the fact he was given a short-term deal has led to the players becoming complacent?

MP: I don’t think I’ve seen a more disinterested group of Watford players in the 30-plus years I’ve been going to Vicarage Road.

Chris Wilder’s recent post-match comments certainly have an element of self preservation about them – he’ll clearly be looking for a new job in the summer – but he’s also correct in his damning assessment.

This is a team of individuals who are completely unwilling or unable to play for each other, completely unable to withstand the slightest of pressure from an opposition and a team that Watford supporters simply cannot wait to see the back of.

Complacent is probably one of the politest terms that could be used to describe the Watford class of 2022/23.

Moving onto the players, Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr have both scored double figures for Watford this year, are they the two players you would say are of Premier League quality?

MP: Both will undoubtedly secure top tier moves this summer.

In line with their team-mates, performances have declined as the season has gone on and it will be particularly interesting to see where Sarr ends up, but there is no question that alongside better players and in a decent team, both will go on to impress.

They’ve both stayed at Watford for longer than many expected, so there will be no complaints when they move on. I hope they go on to have excellent careers at the top level.

Coventry City v Watford - Sky Bet Championship - Coventry Building Society Arena
João Pedro is Watford’s top scorer so far this season with 11 goals.
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

Only five Watford players have started over 30 matches this season, do you think the high player turnover has played a key team part in failing to make the playoffs?

MP: To provide some mitigation against this disastrous season, it’s important to remember that Watford did suffer an almost impossibly long injury list around the turn of the year.

I realise we’re unlikely to get any sympathy from Sunderland fans in this regard, but it really was unprecedented and was a hugely disruptive factor in Slaven Bilic’ attempts to deliver some vague semblance of consistency.

You’d like to think that without the chronic situation that befell us during that period things might have been a bit different, but we’ll never know.

Ultimately however, whoever has pulled on the yellow shirt this season hasn’t performed to anywhere near the levels required. That’s the crux of the issue.

MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, who will Tony Mowbray’s side have to be wary of?

MP: You may think I’m joking when I say this, but I assure you I mean it. The answer is none.

At this moment, I can’t name a single player that will cause whatever Sunderland XI takes the field anything approaching an issue or concern.

Mowbray’s men will have faced more searching questions and challenges from the cones and mannequins in training this week.

Besiktas v Alanyaspor - Super Lig
Linked to Watford and Sunderland recently, Italian coach Francesco Farioli’s last spell in management was in charge of Alanyaspor in Turkey.
Photo by BSR Agency/Getty Images

In quite random news, Italian manager has been linked with taking over at both Watford and Sunderland lately, do you think there’s anything concrete in him joining your club in the summer?

MP: Nothing is ever concrete at Vicarage Road! That said, Gino Pozzo is nothing if not decisive and will have been working on Wilder’s replacement for some time.

I think the big question is whether or not Farioli is willing to take on the challenge. There isn’t going to be a quick fix at Watford and there are currently no indications that next year’s squad will be anything other than relegation candidates.

That isn’t going to be appealing for any ambitious Head Coach.

With nothing to play for other than pride and for the fans, how do you think Chris Wilder will approach the match tactically?

MP: At this stage, I suspect his best approach would be to put the wrong sort of petrol in the team coach so they break down en-route and have to forfeit the match.

If the hapless Hornets do make it to the ground, he may mix things up a bit by bringing in a few youngsters, but I’d be surprised if he did that in this game – that’s more likely in the final home game against Stoke.

Once again, you may think I’m being glib saying it doesn’t matter what tactics Wilder tries to go into the game with, but at this stage it’s genuinely the case.

The team has time and time again proved itself to be completely incapable of executing a plan or sticking to any discernible tactical approach, and I can’t see that changing at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League
Watford’s last visit to the Stadium of Light resulted in a 1-0 defeat, with Patrick Van Aanholt scoring back in 2016!
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Which eleven Watford players do you think Wilder will go for?

MP: I suspect Chris Wilder will resist calls to play youngsters on the basis that throwing them in for a lost cause in front of 45,000 supporters would do them more harm than good.

Therefore, I imagine it will be a similar side to the one that took the field against Hull last weekend.

There may be a few members of the squad feeling mysteriously tight hamstrings or suffering from unidentified knocks when they realise what they are facing on Saturday though, so keep an eye out for late withdrawals.

Watford’s last visit to the Stadium of Light resulted in a 1-0 defeat back in 2016 - what is your score prediction for this time around?

MP: I’m going to break with the overall tone of my answers and provide a glimmer of optimism here.

I do think Watford will find the back of the net; possibly the opening goal.

Final score? I can’t decide whether it will be 4 or 5-1 to Sunderland. Enjoy!


Starting XI: It’s time for Doddsball! Is this the team that Mike Dodds will pick v Swansea?


Score Predictions: Can Mike Dodds and Sunderland see off the Swans?


On This Day (24th February 2007): Miller’s late heroics send Sunderland fourth!

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