First Team 31/01/2018

Loan | Success Moves To Málaga

Watford winger Isaac Success has agreed a deadline day loan move to Málaga.

The 22-year-old, who has played 20 times for the Hornets and scored once, will spend the remainder of the 2017/18 season with the Spanish La Liga outfit.


Opposition Focus | Stoke City

Martin Spinks, of the Stoke Sentinel, tells us what we can expect from the Potters tonight.

Paul Lambert and Stoke had a weekend off after they were knocked out the FA Cup in round three by Coventry City. Was that more valuable than a cup tie?

“Yes, definitely. In some ways he might have preferred a game straight away after doing so well against Huddersfield. But, on balance, he would have preferred to have a week and a half – or near enough – on the training pitch to get to know the players and for them to get to know him so they can be even better prepared come Watford than they were for the Huddersfield game.”

Lambert has only had one game in charge so far, a 2-0 home win over Huddersfield Town, what did you make of the performance and was there a noticeable improvement on Hughes’ final games?

“Absolutely. It was a complete seed change from what had been going on under Mark Hughes. They played with a much greater tempo and intensity. It didn’t always look good – especially in the first half – but the crowd appreciated that they were up for it so the atmosphere was improved as well.

“It felt like a fresh start then, in the second half, they got the goals. It was an absolutely crucial win to turn some sort of corner and because Huddersfield are down there as well. And the same goes for the Watford match.”

How important was that win in getting the fans on-side? 

“There were a few raised eyebrows and some even turned their noses up when it became obvious Lambert was coming. 

“But there is no doubt he’s said everything right and done everything right in his couple of weeks in the job. If he hasn’t won the fans over yet then he is starting to. If he is the man to keep Stoke up he will be a hero – no question.”

Had there been much in the way of change from his predecessor, Mark Hughes?

“In terms of shape he returned to a back four which I think everyone is more comfortable with – the players and the fans. 

“They played a greater intensity against Huddersfield; they got the ball forward quicker and tried to play more in the opponent’s third and it paid off. 

“There was no square passing and keeping the ball for the sake of it which is what the team and fans needed at this stage of the season in the position Stoke are in.”

After three successive ninth-place finishes, Stoke tumbled to 13th last season and were in a relegation battle when Hughes left this season. Was it the right decision to sack Hughes?

“Do we have to?!

“The only question was whether it should have been done sooner. He was going to get sacked anyway but once they lost to Coventry in the FA Cup they had to do it that night because the team and the club were plumbing the depths and someone had to pay the price; no-one was sorry to see him go in the end.

“He had lost a grip on the dressing room – there’s no question – and the team were free-falling. They were out of the FA Cup and heading out of the Premier League so he had to go. He had no friends left by the end and it’s just a shame he couldn’t have gone sooner.

“The board were convinced at one stage he could have kept them up and they would perhaps have made the change in the summer. But then events overtook them and in the end he had to go in January.”

A lot of pundits have highlighted the change of identity as a problem for Hughes – was that his undoing in the end. If not, what was?

“I think some managers just have a shelf-life and five years was far too long for Mark Hughes. He had lost the authority he needed over the players. There was a question about discipline, which he had left drift, and the whole thing was starting to fall apart.

“The signs were there 12 months ago and many would have changed it last summer. But the board pride themselves on their loyalty – and they’re to be commended for that – but unfortunately their loyalty wasn’t rewarded by someone who could keep things together.”

Peter Crouch is still a key part of the Stoke City squad aged 37

One man linked with the role was former Watford boss Quique Sánchez Flores – how close was he?

“I’m really not sure [whether he would have been a good fit], time would have told on that. But there is no doubt he is the one they wanted and they decided to go for him. They were obviously given a lot of encouragement from him and his people.

“But, at the last minute, Espanyol made it difficult for him to leave. They showed him the love – by the sounds of it – and bringing his family back over to England would have been a bit of a wrench for him.

“When he had to make the decision he got cold feet. Maybe it’s worked out for the best – we’re certainly hoping so.”

Lambert’s appointment came out of the blue somewhat, what do you make of him and is the man to keep Stoke in the Premier League?

“It had got to the stage where they had to make an appointment. They had tried and failed with Sánchez Flores and Martin O’Neill and things were dragging on. They had to get someone in who wanted the job and was out of work so there were no messy details to clear up. Lambert was the best candidate out there who was available.

“I think he is a good fit. He’s a tracksuit manager who is very animated and passionate and the fans needed that, someone to get them going, because Mark Hughes was far too passive – particularly when things were going badly. Lambert is a guy who manages with his heart and his head.”

How do you rate Stoke’s transfer window at this point? Moritz Bauer is the club’s only signing to date; can we expect more?

“Ideally they need more. Clearly the current squad has underperformed so there is potential there to improve it and they have started under Lambert.

“The one signing that should go through is Badou Ndiaye, the Senegal international from Galatasaray. As things stand that is going to be the only one but you never know in the last 24 hours.”

How important will keeping Peter Crouch be? He was linked with Chelsea recently and although he doesn’t start very often these days, he is clearly important...

“He’s got a huge role to play popping up with goals between now and the end of the season. He shows no signs of waning in terms of his physical attributes. He is 37 and his age looks like it should be against him, but he’s probably as fresh as he was ten years ago.

“If he is used right and not overworked he has got a part to play. He is a Plan B because of his height and presence.”

How do you expect Stoke to line up?

“Butland; Bauer, Shawcross, Zouma, Pieters; Fletcher, Adam; Shaqiri, Allen, Choupo-Moting; Diouf.”

Watford have quite a few injury concerns, how are Stoke looking on that front?

“They’ve got no new injuries – all the long-term absentees are back and everybody is fit.”

So, how do you see tonight’s game going? 

“It’s got to be a home win. 2-1, but hopefully we both stay up!”