17 September ~ It has been a difficult summer at Vicarage Road, following the loss of key figures both on and off the pitch. The transfer of Danny Graham to Swansea was inevitable given his division-leading haul of 24 league goals last season and the striker's desire to play Premier League football. Other key players also departed but, given Watford's level of indebtedness, player sales were an accepted certainty this summer. More damaging was the loss of manager Malky Mackay and CEO Julian Winter. When Mackay left for Cardiff he took with him key members of his backroom staff and Scotland international Don Cowie, resulting in further upheaval.
Winter had earned a good deal of respect having steered the club through some difficult times and for placing an emphasis on investment in youth. He was also praised for his openness with supporters, even at times when the future of the club was unclear. His departure, more than that of any player or member of the coaching staff, will be most keenly felt. Watford's future direction is still not clear under new owner Laurence Bassini, and Winter represented a trusted link between the boardroom and supporters.
However, there are causes for optimism at the Vic. Early season performances, even in home defeats to West Ham and Derby, offered hope that the club will be able to defy the predictions of many pundits and secure their Championship status for another season.
By appointing Sean Dyche, the Hornets continued their recent tradition of giving talented young coaches opportunities in management. Despite the loss of key players, he has assembled a more balanced squad and summer signings have added some much-needed depth. Carl Dickinson offers a solid, and most importantly left-footed, option at full-back while Mark Yeates has shown a promise since his move from Sheffield United. Returning Aston Villa loanee Andi Weimann and recent signing Jonathan Hogg, also from Villa Park, both impressed in the victory over 2010-11 play-off finalists Reading last weekend.
Today Watford travel to face a Barnsley side who have struggled at home this season, but the Tykes will have been buoyed by a draw against big-spending Leicester City in their last fixture. Hornets striker Marvin Sordell will hope he can emulate the success he enjoyed in his last game at Oakwell, scoring with a spectacular strike and winning the Man of the Match plaudits in a 4-1 victory for the England Under-21s. Watford fans would relish a repeat, but further steady progress and another positive result would be equally welcome. Pete Ellender