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View From The Town End: Watford

Remember that glorious late summer's day when two title contenders contested a fascinating 3-3 draw at the Madejski Stadium? Well fast forward to a dreary damp January and that weather assessment just about covers our two teams. Here, Mike Parkin who's one of the co-hosts on the From The Rookery End blog & podcast gives his views of Watford.

Charlie Crowhurst

How would you sum up Watford's season so far?

The bonkers 3-3 draw at The Madejski Stadium earlier this season probably sums up our season perfectly. A fair smattering of disappointment, defensive frailty and frustration, all served up alongside some flashes of brilliance and excitement.

If most Watford supporters were to answer honestly, they'd say that the season has yet to live up to expectations. Gianfranco Zola had us playing amazing football last season and despite the no-show in the Play-Off Final at Wembley, we added to the squad in the summer and hopes were high that we'd pick up where we left off. To the outsider it may have looked like we did, putting 6 past Bournemouth, 5 past Barnsley (and of course 3 past Reading away from home), but these eye-catching scorelines were only papering over what were pretty obvious cracks.

We have missed the pace of Matej Vydra (replacing him an almost impossible task) and the mercurial Nathaniel Chalobah, and with his absence in the midfield compounded by a long term injury sustained by the equally pivotal Almen Abdi, Watford have all too often struggled. The early season goals soon dried up, with the scoring done seemingly exclusively by the opposition. After five home defeats in a row, including four on the bounce without scoring, Watford were an increasingly pale imitation of the class of 2012/13. The departure of head coach Gianfranco Zola was perhaps inevitable.

How have the fans reacted to the departure of Gianfranco Zola, are you happy with his replacement Giuseppe Sannino?

Zola tendered his resignation in the wake of the home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday which was the fifth home reverse in a row. He still had an awful lot of credit in the bank after delivering a plethora of memorable moments the season before, but it's fair to say the natives were getting restless. In the end, his departure was handled with typical class and dignity, and it was with a sense of sadness that Watford supporters said their goodbyes to the man who, along with the Pozzo family, had brought a sense of pride and happiness to a club which had so nearly been driven out of existence by the previous owner.

The Pozzo family mean business. They are surgical and scientific in their quest for success, and with questions being asked of Zola's approach to discipline and attention to detail, it's not hard to see why Beppe Sannino, a man with a reputation for making his teams tough to beat, was brought in. So far, he's done the trick. We've only conceded one goal in the league and that was a penalty away at Ipswich, but this is only half of the job. The real task will be getting the team believing in themselves, playing with a bit of confidence and regaining that elusive scoring touch. despite the mediocre results, there is huge talent in the squad and I don't think it will take much to kickstart the season. The signing of one time wunderkid Alexander Merkel should help us in midfield, and the arrival of 6'5" Swedish International Mathias Ranegie will give us a welcome option on front. He's not match fit however, so is unlikely to feature against Reading.

Any fond memories of Watford v Reading?

Having played the majority of the 2009/10 season with the spectre of relegation looming large, Watford, then under the stewardship of Malky Mackay, secured safety with an impressive 3-0 home win against Reading. That was a good one, a romp in the sunshine. I also remember seeing Kevin Phillips score his first Watford goal in an away fixture at Elm Park. I was driven to that game in an open top sports car too, which for a spotty, excitable teenager was quite the experience.

Any not so fond ones?

You remember that game I mentioned? The one where I looked back misty eyed at Kevin Phillips' first goal in yellow? Well, it was a consolation goal. We lost 4-1 and were absolute rubbish. The whole thing was absolutely horrific. Not my favourite away day.

The other stand-out memory is of course the ghost goal. I remember going absolutely ballistic at the officials before making a conscious decision to calm myself down. I figured that there is no way they could have made such a massive mistake and that they must have seen something I didn't. Of course it transpired that the officials had managed to drop one of the biggest clangers in the history of the game and my initial, shall we say, animated reaction was the right response. It's funny to watch it now, but I have to say I remain a bit disappointed by the reaction of the Reading players. They knew it wasn't a goal and by not acting I felt they let themselves down. Easy for me to say I know, but I like to think if it had been the other way round, Watford would have let Reading score an equaliser. In some ways I'm glad Watford were involved as it meant I was present at one of the most talked about football happenings of recent times, but it's another Reading related incident I could have done without.

Who should Reading fans be worried about come Saturday?

It's hard to single anyone out. There is however talent throughout the squad. Angella is a comfortable and composed defender who has the ability to cause problems at set pieces. We're looking forward to seeing Merkel in the midfield, who arrives with a big reputation, whilst in the final third Diego Fabbrini is capable of turning defences inside out. We haven't quite seen it from the one time Italy international, but he has an extraordinary talent and if he does mange to put together the complete performance at this level, I fear for the opposition.

Lewis McGugan can be deadly when presented with a free kick twenty yards out, but two of our most exciting performers in Fernando Forestieri and Ikechi Anya look set to miss out through injury.

Anyone Watford fans are worried about?

Watford supporters are still too worried about their own side to look elsewhere at the moment. We're facing up to the fact that we're miles away from where we hoped we'd be and after looking frail and beaten for big parts of the last two months, Hornets fans are just hoping that we can continue to show some signs of recovery. It's been an incredible time at Watford, coming from the brink of extinction to the brink of the Premier League in the blink of an eye. Many Watford supporters still don't know if they are coming or going, so there isn't much time or spare mental capacity to worry about the opponents. I like to think the management and players have a different approach, however.

Having said all that, it's always wise to fear the returning ex-player, so there will undoubtedly be some attention for Jobi McAnuff. The Reading squad is full of household names, few of which will be unknown to Watford fans, so despite the Royals' relatively poor run of form there's no danger of expecting anything other than a tough afternoon.

Score prediction?

There won't be much in it, and I can't imagine it will be a game that will live long in the memory. Both teams will want the win, but will be equally desperate not to lose. I have to be confident (otherwise what's the point, right?) so I'm going for a 2-1 Watford win.

Any advice for Royals fans making their way down the M4 on Saturday?

If you want to avoid road rage and a parking ticket, work out where you are parking before heading off. If you want a drink, head to The Oddfellows instead of being lured to the horrors of the High Street. The facilities in the away end are cramped, especially when there s a big away following, so if you want to relax with a beer and a bite to eat ahead of the game, I'd recommend doing so away from the stadium. Enjoy the game!