Ladies 1 week ago

Ladies: “Promotion Is The Ultimate Goal”

With under a week to go until the new season gets underway, things are starting to take shape for Watford FC Ladies.

Three new signings have already been announced and there’s likely to be more to follow ahead of the opening game away at Portsmouth on Sunday (August 18).

With a mix of familiar players and trialists amongst the line-ups, the Golden Girls have impressed so far in pre-season, scoring 17 times in four games and also defeating higher division opposition.

“I think it’s been a good pre-season so far,” Head Coach Armand Kavaja told watfordfc.com. “We had several players to look at and we’ve managed to get a lot of minutes for everyone, which has been good.

“Without looking at the results, because I think that tells a lie sometimes in pre-season, we’ve definitely been progressing. Against Chesham I thought we did well, creating a lot of chances despite the result. We had a lot of young players and trialists playing in that game, so you can’t really see it as a negative thing.

“The second game [against Lewes], I thought we played really well in possession and we naturally dropped into good positions out of possession, which was great to see.

“Against Ipswich, it was good to get a clean sheet and most importantly, we kept the ball really well and created some chances from two, three and four passes.

“Last time out against Billericay, we still noticed things to work on but it was another positive result for us and hopefully setting us up for the season.”

Megan Chandler was the latest signing to be officially unveiled, as the midfielder became the third player to join the Hornets this summer, after Nina Wilson and Ryah Vyse was announced last week.

“I think it was key for us to make sure we kept the core players and built around them,” explained Kavaja. “They know what we want, the philosophy of the club, the values of it and they care about the club.

“The new ones that we’ve brought in are not only good players, but really good characters and positive, nice people, which is really important to us.

“We began the season well last year and then dropped off before picking up again, so we want to have that consistency throughout. Having those players with a bit more maturity and experience will obviously help us.”

The beginning of the campaign is crucial, with almost a third of the league season scheduled to take place in August and September.

“Our opening few fixtures are tough, but if we can get off to a good start, we’ll send a message to the other teams in the league that we’re serious this year,” said Kavaja.

“We want to compete and be in and around the top three this season. We came close last time, but didn’t have that strength in depth, whereas this year, we’re adding those players that will hopefully take us that extra step.

“Promotion is the ultimate goal. Ideally, we would have liked to have gone up last year, but we had a three-year plan in place.

“We want to show the FA that we’re serious with what we’re doing here. The club has invested a bit more, we’re training at the men’s training ground and now have an extra session on the Wednesday.

“We’ve got to now make sure we compete and that we’re around that top three throughout the season, because it will come down to the head-to-heads between the sides that are up there. The coaching staff and I are confident.”

There was hardly a dull moment last campaign, with several entertaining games. Two of the most memorable were probably against Portsmouth, who Watford will be taking on in their first two matches, first in the league, and then in the cup.

“We’re looking forward to the games against them,” said Kavaja. “We came from behind to win in the away game last year, while in the return fixture, they came back to 4-4 from 4-1 down, before we won it in the last minute.

“While we want to be more solid, we want to entertain, get goals for the people that come to watch and play good football. Portsmouth are similar, they try to play, and we’ll do likewise, so may the best team win!”

Under-23's 1 week ago

Dalby: “Deeney Is Someone I Look At A Lot”

By Kevin Affleck

Not content with four goals in as many days in pre-season, including a hat-trick, and then two assists on his Professional Development League debut for the club, Sam Dalby is looking to become an even more rounded striker by picking up some tips of the trade from Troy Deeney.

Dalby has hit the ground running since signing from Leeds United in the summer in a deal that is already looking a really shrewd piece of business, and he has already identified the one player whose brains he wants to pick.

“Deeney is someone I look at a lot,” said Dalby. “My style is quite similar to his as he likes to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Watching him, by coming to every first-team game at home, is a great experience. I get to watch him, learn from him and make sure I'm doing everything he is doing.”

Deeney, being Deeney, will probably happily pass on the odd bit of know-how to someone clearly so eager to learn. Dalby is still a teenager and not 20 until January but he's already been round the block. He made his senior debut for Leyton Orient at 16, his league debut just a few months later and had his first League Two goal before he was 17. He can also boast of working under Marcelo Bielsa, the revered coach at Leeds United, and scoring a goal for the Yorkshire giants in pre-season last summer. 

So it says something about where Watford's Under-23 side want to go this season that they were able to attract someone who has been in the first-team picture at Elland Road.

“I was at Leeds, still had another year but then I found out that I could come here,” said Dalby. “It came about really quickly and I was keen to get things moving. Within a couple of days everything was sorted. We weren't due to report back until July 15 at Leeds and I wanted to start pre-season earlier than that and wanted a new challenge.”

The fact Academy Manager Richard Thomas and Assistant Coach Omer Riza, two coaches he knew from his time at Orient, were here helped smooth the deal. They were at Brisbane Road when Andy Hessenthaler gave him the nod in the EFL Cup tie against Stevenage.

“I was only 16 and had just started full-time,” he said. “Within a few months Hessenthaler thought he'd give me a chance against Stevenage. It was really good. I hadn't trained much with the first team and I thought I'd just be on the bench for the experience. We were 2-0 up on about 70 minutes against 10 men so he just chucked me on.”

Hessenthaler, the former midfield workhorse for the Hornets, left soon after but new boss Andy Edwards integrated Dalby in his league team a few months later, firstly with a maiden league appearance against Wycombe and then a first league start against Crawley Town. Dalby made quite the impact.

“It was on Boxing Day,” said Dalby. “I had been out with an ankle injury and we had a new manager who liked to use the young players. I hadn't trained much but he stuck me in and I scored after four minutes. It was a massive moment, especially as all my family were there.” 

He ended up making 18 league appearance for the O's and created a few waves before Crystal Palace and then Leeds came calling.

“I went on trial at Palace and they wanted to be buy me,” he said. “Then the last day of the window there were a couple of moves they wanted to make so that didn't get done in the end, but six months later I was bought by Leeds.”

His acclimatisation in Yorkshire was helped by the fact he had grandparents in the area. He also quickly became good friends with Jack Clarke, Bryce Hosannah, Pascal Struijk and Clark Odour.

“I settled really well,” he said. “In the first six months I was playing really well and scoring lots of goals for the 23s. I was with the first team every day in pre-season last summer and that was such a good experience. Bielsa's attention to detail is ridiculous. If there is one cone out of place, just by a little bit, he'll go mad and make sure it's in the right place.”

Even the prospect of working under Bielsa, who Pep Guardiola called “the best coach in the world”, was not enough to keep Dalby at Elland Road when the chance arose to move back down south and join the Golden Boys. 

“Everything is fantastic,” said the Leytonstone-born Dalby. “I'm really enjoying the football and training every day with a good bunch of lads. We had a great trip to Germany and it really helped team bonding with a new bunch of lads. The facilities at RB Leipzig are unbelievable. I think it cost £50m and it's world class. Playing against their Under-19s was a good experience in itself but to get three goals was a bonus.”

Dalby, who possesses a deft left foot for a big man, got another against Wingate & Finchley four days later, a lovely first-time finish with the outside of his left foot and somehow he didn't get off the mark against Hull City at Vicarage Road on Monday.

“I couldn't believe it,” he said. “I should have scored at least two and I had one disallowed. I'll hopefully get on the scoresheet next week.”