First Team 09/03/2017

Colney Chat | Tommie Hoban

By Kevin Affleck

Tommie Hoban could be forgiven for wondering if he's run over a black cat. He's certainly not been having a party, in the words of the song.
The one-of-our-own defender must have thought he had his fair share of long-term injuries when he underwent complex surgery to solve an ankle problem in 2013. He also, just to top off that wretched period, contracted an infection post-surgery that knocked him for six. But oh no, there was more mis-fortune around the corner when he had to undergo the knife once more, this time to repair a groin-stomach issue in October 2015, the recovery from which took way longer than he or the medics anticipated. 

It was hoped a change in scenery, and a loan move to Blackburn Rovers this season, would bring about a change in luck but that theory went out straight out the window when he crashed to the ground in the final training session before Rovers' home game with Wolves in October. 
"We were doing set-pieces and I ran to attack a ball and my arm got caught behind me," Hoban recalls. "I think someone might have grabbed it a little bit. I dropped to the floor and had never experienced pain like it."

That is some statement when you consider this is someone who had his ankle drilled and shaved nearly four years ago. The following detail is enough to make you wince. 
"The physios were yanking my arm about and trying to get it back in and they managed to get it back in at the last attempt before the ambulance arrived," he said. "It was the biggest relief ever."
Hoban was taken to hospital and although there was relief that nothing was broken, he had obviously dislocated the joint and torn all the ligaments that hold the shoulder in place. It certainly provided a challenge for the surgeon in Italy.
"The labrum, that holds the shoulder in place, had done a 360 and was badly torn," Hoban says. "The surgeon screwed into the bone to anchor down the labrum and hold it in place. It was very, very painful and the first week, I could hardly even sleep. It was ridiculously painful. They were tough times to get through."
It would be unfair to call Hoban injury-prone. He isn't, after all, one of those players who picks up little niggles and is out with a strain here or a tweak there. When he's injured, he's properly injured.
"Muscular wise I seem to be quite good," he said, "it's just I keep picking up strange injuries and have been a bit unlucky. There is no point dwelling on it. It is what it is. I've just got to work hard and keep fit as I can. I know I can play – I've just got to have the mindset that I'm due a good run without injuries."
He's certainly put the rehabilitation work in, doing two sessions a day at Isokenetic London in Marylebone for seven weeks before continuing his recovery back at Blackburn. He's now fit and available for selection. The shoulder injury came just as he was putting together his best run of games since the Championship-winning season.

"I was happy," he said of the 10-game spell at the start of the season. "Results weren't the best at times but I felt like I was playing well. I was fit and strong."
Another period on the sidelines has, unsurprisingly, challenged him mentally. "I'd be lying if I said there weren't low moments," he said "The first four weeks after the shoulder surgery were very tough as I couldn't move my arm and couldn't do any exercise. But I just think about good times I've had, like getting promoted."
Hoban is only 23 but seems to have been around for ages. He is one of just four players from the promotion-winning season still on the club's books and he remains confident he can fulfil his Premier League ambitions with the Hornets.
"I want my future to be at Watford," he says. "I haven't spoken with Watford about their long-term plans for me but I'm confident in my ability.
“I know the player that I am and can be, and I feel I can play in this Watford team. I'm hopeful that if I get a chance I can take it and stay in the team. I love the club and it's been my home since I was 14. I'm fully focussed on getting back in the frame here."
There are plenty willing him to do so, that's for sure.

First Team 07/03/2017

Colney Chat | Nordin Amrabat

By Kevin Affleck

Nordin Amrabat, who is set to return to full training this week, will presumably go straight back into the Watford squad once he is declared fully fit, but he admits there was a time when he wasn't sure if he would make the cut for what has been a breakthrough Premier League season for the winger.

Amrabat was very much on the periphery of things during pre-season and the otherwise confident Moroccan international admitted he was nervously looking over his shoulder amid the wave of summer arrivals.

"When you calculate there are only 17 places [for foreign players], the new players for sure would be in the squad," said Amrabat, who was signed from Malaga in January last year. 

"There were five or six question marks and I was one of them. That's the truth. I didn't play a lot in pre-season and I could feel the signals. I wasn't playing a lot and I wasn't stupid.

"It looked like it was going to be difficult for me to stay. There were lots of clubs from Spain who wanted to take me on loan and the club was ready to send me on loan, but the coach told me, in the end, he wanted me to stay."

Amrabat believes his best is yet to come at Vicarage Road

It's hard to believe now he's established himself as such a central figure in the squad, but Amrabat wasn't sure he was going to be part of Walter Mazzarri's plans right up until the 18 for the game against Southampton on the opening day was announced. 

"I played well against Queens Park Rangers in pre-season but I played zero minutes against Lorient in the last pre-season game," he said. 

"Normally players who start the first game of the season play in the last pre-season game but I didn't play. I tell the truth, after the game I went to the coach to speak about my future.

"I said it was time for me to go – not from my side, but from the club's side. He told me I was going to play the first game against Southampton. I thought he was joking, but it was true.

"That week I worked really hard in training and I started at Southampton. From that moment I was playing."

He's not looked back since and played with great zest and dynamism in various roles down Watford's right flank until an ankle ligament injury stopped him when he was in full cry. He was displaying the sort of form that regular watchers of Malaga are familiar with.

"I've still not shown the Watford fans what I am really capable of," he says. "I can still do more. I played better when I was in Spain and for a period at Galatasaray. Last year it was difficult to show my best as I only played the last ten minutes of games."

Amrabat has started every game he's been fit for this season and been a bundle of energy down the right. He's played right-back, right wing-back and even part of a front three. 

"My best position is a winger," he said, "and I prefer the left wing as I can go inside or outside but I've also played as right wing-back and then a few games as right winger. I can give a lot of energy to the team. I'm looking forward to being back."