We're starting a new feature here on Through It All Together called "Leeds Against The World." Everyone knows we're not the most-loved club in Europe, so we thought the title fitting. We'll be taking on the world in weekly Q&As, where we send questions to fan bloggers of our opponents and they provide us a little perspective each week. We're not likely to hear that anyone else loves Leeds United, but that's alright. It just helps us understand the opponents in upcoming games that much better.
For our first "Leeds Against The World" feature, we have a special FA Cup edition. Watford FC fan Matt Rowson has been covering the Hornets since 1994 in various capacities, and his blog BHaPPY.org.uk is a well-respected source for Watford fans. We sent him some questions, and he graciously responded with more than we expected. Thanks Matt for participating, and while we hope you lose Saturday, good luck the rest of the season.
Leeds Against The World: Watford FC
Hey, Matt. Thanks for doing this Q&A with us. Watford has won four of eleven since Christmas, how are you feeling about your chances against Souleymane Doukara’s Mighty Leeds on Saturday?
We've had a bit of a wobble since Christmas, but given the buffer we'd built up and the quality of the opposition - the seven we didn't win included Spurs twice, Chelsea twice and Man City - it wasn't a disaster. Only an impressive Southampton beat us by more than a single goal, and we're still in the top half of the Premier League. Beating Palace is always enjoyable but Saturday's win took us up to 36 points, which would have been enough to stay up last season, with twelve games to go. The pressure's off, and whilst there are stronger teams left in the cup, there are few whose League position is as... inconsequential. We're overdue a cup run; I'd have fancied Leeds' chances more if this had been a third or fourth round fixture.
What’s your favorite Watford-Leeds memory?
There have been, um, a few good ones. The playoff final in 2006 was obviously significant and memorable, although the spectacular coming off of the wheels and subsequent tarnishing of Aidy Boothroyd's veneer have rather soured that memory.
I was a student at Leeds in the early nineties, living in Headingley. I met a few fellow Hornets, and we used to try to get to any games north of Birmingham in Felix's Yugo. He kept a plank of wood in his boot; when the Yugo didn't start, as happened frequently, a carefully administered clout of the engine with this wood seemed to do the trick. One rare escapade all the way down the M1 to Vicarage Road was when we drew United in the League Cup in 1992. It was the last season of the Vicarage Road terrace, and the last time it was completely rammed. The Hornets won 2-1, Eric Cantona being denied in a one-on-one with Perry Suckling of all people in his last game for Leeds. We headed back up the M1 with scarves streaming and a lack of grace entirely befitting of beating the league champions. Which was fine, until the traffic came to a halt...
What’s your least favorite Watford-Leeds memory?
That would be the meeting at the end of the 2012/13 season at Vicarage Road. We needed to better Hull's result to go up, Cardiff were already champions, but Malky Mackay did us proud by getting his side off the beach to take a point at the KC Stadium. However, Manuel Almunia was injured in the warm up, and when Dominic Poleon shoved Ikechi Anya into backup keeper Jonathan Bond's jaw there was a pool of blood in the penalty area and a rookie making his debut in goal. He'd been told he was being released without making the first team the previous week, and hadn't been expecting to be on the bench, let alone the pitch. It was ugly... but then it did give us the dramatic semi-final with Leicester, so definitely had a silver lining.
What's one matchup we should watch out for on Saturday?
Troy Denney against whoever. It's always Troy against whoever. He's hardly going to be news to anybody, but that doesn't mean you know how to cope with him. He's a beast who's also a terrific footballer. And a leader. What do you do with that?
Elsewhere a couple of our January signings will probably get a run. Big names... monstrous names for Watford... but Flores is careful, brings players in slowly. Nordin Amrabat is, according to some accounts, our record signing - a big personality and a versatile weapon up front. Mario Suarez played for Atlético Madrid under Flores and was in Spain's midfield last year. There was a lot of excitement when we signed him... but his first games have seen him rather surprised by the pace of the English game. So... if Lewis Cook or Alex Mowatt, or whoever's at the front of your midfield puts pressure on him, that'll be interesting to watch.
Give us a reason you’ll win:
As above. The win against Palace was massive, there's little doubt now that we're staying up, so we can afford to focus on the Cup. Being two games away from Wembley will be a big incentive in itself. And we're a bit bloody good, by the way. Thinking about it, that's probably the biggest reason.
Give us a reason you’ll lose:
A round or two ago I'd have said... perhaps a large number of players coming in from abroad, not appreciating that the Cup is a pretty intense thing here for all that we complain that teams don't take it seriously any more. But... having gotten past Newcastle and Forest and with the attitude having been pretty much spot on, that's not really a concern. I guess... we've been pretty conservative in our team selection. Not much rotation, a relatively settled side. So in the cup the temptation is to give the fringe players a run. We've got a great squad, and increasingly impressive cover in all positions, but you're still bringing in players who aren't quite as sharp, aren't quite as used to playing with each other. That might be the threat. I don't think there's any danger of us taking Leeds for granted... it's only been nine months, we're not that up ourselves yet.
What’s your prediction for the final result?
It might be tight, but Watford will win.
And lastly, what has been the biggest key to Watford’s successful first season back in the EPL?
The honest answer is "everything". It feels... so well planned, so under control. So I guess to name one thing, the one key thing, it's the know-how of the guys in charge. I don't need to tell you that experience of the Italian game isn't a passport to instant success... but the Pozzos so clearly know their stuff. They've been running Udinese for a long time, developed this legendary scouting network and we're reaping the profits of that with more extraordinary looking treats to come next summer by all accounts. But less visibly it's been the fact that nothing feels weird, nothing feels fumbled. It's all so professional, conscious, thought out. It inspires confidence. And all of this whilst not contaminating what we think of as our "identity", fundamentally a family, community club. An impossible balancing act made to look like a well-rehearsed set piece executed to perfection. We're very very lucky.
--- Again, thanks to Matt for participating in our first Leeds Against The World Q&A. You can read more of his Watford work at www.bhappy.org.uk.