Watford perfectly placed to advance in FA Cup fifth round vs. Leeds United
Leeds United at home in the fifth round of the FA Cup is one to look forward to for Watford. A home tie against a Championship team is a pretty good draw at this stage of the competition, but playing a large club like Leeds, who are bound to bring good support, will add to the occasion. Leeds will bring their remaining hopes for the current season. Well clear of the relegation zone but too far from the playoffs, a cup run will prolong their enthusiasm a little longer.
But Watford are in a very similar position. All but safe from relegation in February, and with some of the other Premier League teams guaranteed to go out in the fifth round, there is a decent chance they could get a favourable tie in the sixth round. From there they'd have a decent chance of making the semifinals. That's a lot of hypothetical future-gazing though, and they've hardly been at their swaggering best in the previous rounds.
This season's cup run has been a strange experience, with Watford using their resources to field weaker teams that were still just good enough to see off Newcastle and Nottingham Forest. They're likely to make changes again on Saturday, but will probably try to keep a strong lineup as the business-end of the competition begins.
The home team will be overwhelming favourites, and it still takes some getting used to the fact that Watford are now a much more powerful club than a former giant like Leeds, but that is the reality. Quique Flores remarked on Leeds' status himself, "I saw Leeds play in the Champions League against Valencia and saw how important that team was but football is football, it is very difficult to know what will happen in the future. Now they are in the Championship but we respect the history of the team."
Leeds had become familiar opponents over the past decade. They defeated Watford 3-0 in the 2006 Championship playoff final in Cardiff. And during their first season under the Pozzo's ownership, Gianfranco Zola's Watford won 6-1 at Elland Road, but lost 2-1 at Vicarage Road on the final day when a victory would have taken them up. In terms of cup ties, on Nov. 10, 1992, Watford hosted league champions Leeds in a memorable League Cup second round tie. Vicarage Road was sold out for that one (a very rare occurrence at the time).
It was a full strength Leeds that featured a thoroughly disinterested Eric Cantona, as well as Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan and Garry Speed. Watford were an incredibly average Division One team with a stadium requiring significant investment. The Vicarage Road terrace, which was the home end at the time, was still lacking a roof. But on the night Watford's team of budget buys and youth team graduates defeated a giant of English football 2-1. The atmosphere was raucous (again, a rare thing at Vicarage Road during that time). Such moments had to be treasured because you didn't know when you'd get the chance to experience anything like it again.
No one anticipated that the Premier League's financial clout would increase to such a dramatic extent over the next two decades. Or that the consequences for getting carried away could be so devastating, as they were for Leeds. But it will be a few years yet before beating Leeds carries no real meaning.
Lloyd Doyley's final farewell
Lloyd Doyley has this week departed Watford for good and signed for Rotherham United. Although Doyley's time at Watford officially came to an end last summer, he'd still been training with the club so it has taken until now for the break-up to feel real. And now everyone must come to terms with the fact that after 443 appearances and two goals (no one remembers the second one), it really is over.
Doyley survived so many changes of management and ownership at the club that for a decade he was the one fixed point of reference for Watford fans. No matter who was in charge there was a place for Doyley at the club. Even when the Pozzo family took over and completely overhauled the squad he was able to find a role in Gianfranco Zola's 3-5-2 formation. In fact, Doyley was probably the only Watford outfield player who really turned up in the 2013 playoff final at Wembley, when the Hornets lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace. It was only last season when he finally faded into the background and made only a handful of appearances.
He looked terrified of the ball when he made his debut and 13 seasons later he still hasn't conquered that fear. In the modern game, when full-backs are expected to do a lot of attacking, that could have been a handicap. It did take him nine seasons to score his first goal, but Doyley has always made up for his deficiencies by being really, really good at defending. And also by being an absolute legend.
Fans will always remember that moment when he scored his first ever goal against QPR. One of the most genuinely happy moments Vicarage Road has ever seen. His teammates looked as thrilled as he did; they knew they'd been a part of something truly special. No one remembers what else happened in that game, they just remember Lloyd Doyley scoring a goal and everyone going crazy. It has become part of his legend, part a part of Watford legend. Everyone will wish him well and be looking out for Rotherham results these next few months.
Michael blogs about Watford for ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @Regista_Michael.