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.”

First Team 1 week ago

Affleck’s Angle: Wake-Up Call

By Kevin Affleck

As deflating as Saturday's result was – and boy was it deflating – it's important to add a dose of realism and a sense of perspective. Please bear with me.

These results out of absolutely nowhere, the ones that you just didn't see coming, do happen, even at home. The evidence is right there.

Just last season the team were turned over 4-0 by Bournemouth on the very same patch of manicured grass. That one hurt. The season before there was the capitulation against Huddersfield. Remember that one? Ouch. The season before that there was a dreadful showing against Stoke. That was a tough watch. This columnist still remembers a going over at home to Barnsley under Aidy Boothroyd in 2007 when the Hornets were going for top spot and Barnsley had just been knocked out in the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Even the late, great Graham Taylor wasn't immune from the odd rogue result. In the riotous promotion-winning season of 1998/99, there was an anaemic 1-0 loss at The Vic to Swindon. The season before, the one that ended in that glorious day out at Fulham, the team lost 2-0 at home to Gillingham. You would have thought the footballing world was about to end in this leafy corner of south-west Hertfordshire after those two results.

Fortunately these results and performances are few and far between and, by and large, recent history suggests they happen once a season. It's just the timing was particularly lousy on Saturday. In fact, it was really lousy. 

England international Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr had just whetted everyone's appetite with a rousing unveiling on the pitch. That particular cheer had just died down, Welbeck and Sarr had just taken their seat, when the return of Z-Cars had everybody clearing their throats again, particularly in the Rookery End. The sun was out, the ground looked a picture, optimism was high and a home win looked on the cards. And then bang. The whole thing went up in smoke.

 

“It was something we didn't see coming,” said Craig Cathcart. Javi Gracia certainly didn't. “I have no doubt about that [we were ready],” he said. Neither did Ben Foster. “The prospect of a draw or a defeat didn't even enter anybody's mind,” he said in the club's new post-match offering Added Time. Even the Brighton players were caught a bit on the hop by that one. “To win by that scoreline away from home in the first game is quite unexpected,” said goalscorer Florin Andone. 

The inquest began immediately and Gracia and his coaching staff were spotted early on Sunday morning at the training ground picking over what went wrong and why. You can bet the Spaniard was up most of the night poring over the footage. He won't let this one rest. “We need to improve and maybe this is a good wake-up call for the rest of the season,” said the Head Coach. 

The big positive to cling to was the way the Head Coach, and indeed the team, responded to a similar result at home to Bournemouth. There is precedent. Gracia rallied the troops, changed one or two things tactically, left no stone unturned in the analysis of Wolves and plotted a brilliant 2-0 win at Molineux. It was the perfect response.

He will also, you suspect, get out the big stick in training and be as vocal as he was in one revealing clip posted on the club's Twitter account during the training camp in Austria.

There are likely to be one or two meaty tackles flying about. “We've got to get back to doing the basics on the training pitch and make sure everyone is accountable for their own performance,” said Foster. 

Things can change quickly in a game, let alone week to week. We saw that first hand in the FA Cup semi-final. Graham Potter, the Brighton coach who came across very well in his post-match press conference, knows this only too well.  “I bumped into Ken [Sema] and we were just laughing,” he said. “Eighteen months ago we weren't doing so well. We had just come off the Europa League run but that just goes to show what can happen in football and in life.”

That's why you wouldn't bet against the Hornets getting something at Everton. The team went there last season, if you remember, on the back of five matches without a win and came from behind to come within seconds of taking all three points at Goodison Park. It might even be the perfect follow-up game given the subplots around this fixtures these days. 

It didn't feel like it at the time, and it still doesn't feel like it now to be honest, but what happened on Saturday could serve to refocus minds and remind everyone that the Premier League is an unforgiving place and that you get diddly squat if you are even slightly off your game. It might just have been one of those afternoons. 

“It's not great to get off to a 3-0 defeat but it might be a good thing, it might ruffle a few feathers, might wake a few people up and not a case of waiting for the big players to turn it on,” said Foster. 

We should see what this group are made of on Saturday.