This season, our aim is to actually get round some of the London grounds (we do live here, after all), given that last season, with the same intention, we made it to a total of maybe three. After Stevenage last week, this week it's the return of Aidy Boothroyd to Vicarage Road.
'I don't think it'll be that bad,' said the Watford fan in the pub of their reaction to Aidy Boothroyd, as the former Hornets manager returned to Vicarage Road with Coventry City. 'There might be some tutting', he added thoughtfully. 'That or some folks opening their thermos more aggressively than normal'.
Simmering indifference. Not the expected reaction, particularly considering news that Boothroyd is on the verge of poaching Watford’s fitness coach Martyn Pert. Maybe they were just fairly safe in the knowledge that if Coventry's manager was still in the business of being Aidy 'Hoofroyd', they weren’t going to have too many problems.
This aura of calm surrounding Watford wasn’t reciprocated among the Coventry faithful. Consternation reigned as Keiren Westwood’s name didn’t appear on the teamsheet – replaced in goal by loanee Ian Turner – and 18-year old centre back Nathan Cameron’s did. Rumours of Westwood’s transfer – City’s worst nightmare – abounded until it was revealed he was absent for family reasons.
The unrest wasn’t quelled by an injury to Turner leading to 18-year old keeper Micheal Quirke being thrown on after 20 minutes, though he made one fabulous save shortly afterwards. Cameron, too, didn’t disgrace himself and actually outshone his more established defensive colleagues – willing to get the ball down and play and more composed than the nervy Martin Cranie and ponderous Ben Turner.
In any league, the priority when playing away from home is to be hard to beat. Coventry had obviously got this far (as in ‘sit back and defend’), but then stopped planning. Aimless headers and hopeful punts up the line abounded. The supposed ‘superior physical presence’ that I’d heard about before kick-off wasn’t in evidence as Freddie Eastwood and Lukas Jutkiewicz couldn’t retain possession – more down to the service they were receiving than their abilities. The massive irony about this style of play is that while usually referred to as ‘direct’, it is often completely aimless.
Watford were the better side, but Coventry let them play, repeatedly failing to clear their lines or keep the ball. By pushing Will Buckley into the hole behind Graham and Sordell, Watford had an outlet in between Coventry’s fairly rigid lines and Buckley was a constant threat in the first half. He took advantage of a mistake by Quirke, coming for a cross, to nod in Watford’s first. A spectacular effort from Jon Eustace put them two up on the hour. And that should have been game over. No ‘coming back to haunt his old club’ for Boothroyd. The exact tactics that oversaw his Watford downfall – long balls, little cohesion – were also contributing to Coventry’s.
Suddenly though, a penny had dropped on the Coventry bench. The lively Gunnarsson replaced the anonymous McSheffery and even more crucially, Clive Platt came on for Eastwood. If you are to persist with agricultural attacking, you should probably have a big unit up front to aim at. And Platt was excellent. With Gunnarsson prepared to take responsibility for receiving the ball in midfield, City even got some crosses in. From a corner, with two minutes to go, David Bell smashed in a consolation. From another corner, two minutes into seven of injury time, Doyley fouled Andy Keogh in the Watford box and Jutkiewitcz slotted in the penalty, to the delirium of the Coventry fans and the bemusement of the neutral.
So did Boothroyd come back to haunt Watford? Yes, but only just. I suppose you could argue that his substitutions were inspired, but then you could also worry that it took 64 minutes to realise that Coventry needed some presence up front in order to make the ball stick. On the face of this game, he has work to do with Coventry’s defence, despite a clean sheet against Portsmouth in City’s first game. But, all that said, Coventry are third in the Championship now – which, given the goalkeeping circumstances and focusing solely on Saturday’s result – is hardly cause for complaint.
And what of Boothroyd’s reception? After the game, it was rousing from all three sides of Vicarage Road (if you haven’t been, it looks like they built three stands and then ran out of either money or people). Watford still remembers the good times under Boothroyd. Bringing them back to Coventry would be another massive achievement. Rob MacDonald