5 February ~ Not unlike a mid-floor tower block resident awaiting the lift, Watford fans will travel to Forest today unsure whether to look up or down. All the evidence suggested a season of unremitting struggle, yet the reality has been the complete opposite. Some sparkling football either side of Christmas briefly lifted the Hornets into an unexpected play-off spot and although things have stuttered over the last couple of weeks, significant overachievement remains the name of the game.
The club sit handily in seventh place with 43 points, yet the manager continues to bang the pre-season drum of a 52-point safety target and of course he's absolutely right. But with 19 games to go, it would be more than a little disappointing were we now to get sucked into a relegation battle.
A combination of wise old heads in John Eustace and Martin Taylor, inspired low-budget, low-profile signings (Danny Graham from Carlisle, Don Cowie from Inverness, Scott Loach from Lincoln, Stephen McGinn from St Mirren), judicious working of the loan system and an increasingly influential Academy flow-through has, against all the odds, created an entirely credible Championship outfit. Best of all, though, led by chairman Graham Taylor and manager Malky Mackay, they've become a likeable, honest squad with whom it's easy to identify. And that's not always been the case in recent years, Aidy.
Recent Forest v Watford games have been characterised by goals, loads of them. Six last year, in an unexpected 4-2 Watford win, five the year before as Forest won a thriller 3-2. There's a rich pedigree here, dating back to a unforgettable League Cup tie in 1983 when then manager Taylor took his young side to the City Ground and decided to give it a right old go. It’s not often you lose 7-3.
Games at Watford between these two have followed an ill-tempered pattern over recent seasons – Lee Camp plays pantomime dame, the match is drawn and Billy Davies infuriates the hell out of Malky by claiming Forest are operating on a shoestring and performing miracles to remain competitive. Given the acquisition of Robert Earnshaw alone would comfortably have funded the entire Watford squad, this line's wearing a bit thin.
But this should be a decent encounter. Forest, with Paul Konchesky a right handful at this level, come flying into the game on a run of five consecutive league wins, and remain unbeaten in all competitions since November. Watford, boosted by three new Premier League loan signings and thrilled to be playing on a proper surface, will be desperate to get going again after taking only one point from the last two games. David Harrison