Barnsley are back on the road. This weekend the battle lines will be drawn at Vicarage Road in our fight for our Championship survival and the possibility of hauling ourselves out of the drop zone, for the first time in four months.

Barnsley are back on the road. This weekend the battle lines will be drawn at Vicarage Road in our fight for our Championship survival and the possibility of hauling ourselves out of the drop zone, for the first time in four months.

The Reds have already been stung by a number of injuries to key personnel and the Hornets will be in no mood to surrender an impressive run of form at home. Their last defeat came in a narrow 1-0 reverse back in January, courtesy of an early Kaspars Gorkss goal for Reading. It would be fair to say that the bookies will not have deliberated too much on picking the favourite for this one.

Looking ahead to the match we invited Mike Parkin, a regular contributor to the popular Watford FC fans' podcast From The Rookery End, to provide us with his insights on the opposition.

What were/are your expectations for 2013-14?

I’d be telling porkie pies if I said Watford supporters didn’t expect much better from this season. Despite the heartbreaking and ultimately underwhelming end to the last campaign, most Hornets were quickly over our Wembley no-show as we were confident we would be back better for it this time round. The summer saw a swathe of new signings, all of which had decent pedigree, and Zola now had experience of the Championship, so before the season kicked off you would have been hard pushed to find a Watford fan that wasn’t feeling positive.

Initially the signs were good. We were scoring plenty of goals both home and away (as some readers might recall!) but in truth, the eye-catching scorelines were masking what were in some cases distinctly average performances. The team just wasn’t clicking, the new signings failed to make an impact and the absence of Vyrda and Chalobah (on loan elsewhere) and midfield maestro Almen Abdi (long-term injury) left us missing a good proportion of our most influential performers from the previous season.

The season slowly but surely descended into an unenjoyable slog, with the low point being five dismal home defeats in a row, a nightmarish run of form that culminated in Zola falling on his sword. His replacement in the hot seat was Beppe Sannino who managed to stop the rot without ever really convincing us that the team have truly turned the corner. We haven’t won away since he arrived, and despite our hugely impressive home form, our inability to pick up points away from home means the season is in effect over.

What's been your favourite match this season?

My favourite match of the season was the away fixture with Reading. It was towards the start of the season and high expectation levels combined with a short journey meant that the away end was packed. The 4,000 Hornets were soon silenced however when Reading went into a 2-0 lead. Watford did pull one back before the hosts regained their two goal advantage, but two late strikes secured what had seemed an unlikely point for Watford. It was a battling display combined with demonstrations of exciting skill and flair from a couple of the new boys, so at that stage the omens were looking very good and we travelled back down the M4 a happy bunch. Such optimism has sadly been in short supply since.

Has the takeover by the Pozzo family been a positive experience?

To fully appreciate the importance of the Pozzo family takeover, it’s important to understand the situation the club was in when they arrived. The previous owner was a dubious character in the extreme (I know, a good for nothing chancer in charge of a Football Club - who would have thought it?) and there was a very real possibility that the club would have been plunged into administration or even extinction had he remained at the helm. If you want the gory details a cursory Google search for ‘Laurence Bassini’ should furnish you with the full, horrifying story. Suffice to say we still count our blessings a few years on.

I know the Pozzo’s method drew plenty of criticism (although strangely it only seemed to surface when we were doing well - turns out we’re not all that’s wrong with English football when we’re bobbing along in mid table...) but they delivered high quality players, turning in top drawer performances and almost guided us into the Premier League at the first time of asking, all on the back of a sustainable business model and without saddling the club with a pile of unmanageable debt.

They also promised the Watford faithful that when the average attendance reached 15,000, they would knock down the long abandoned ‘Main’ Stand and replace it with a new one. Thanks to the style of football and the results Watford achieved under Zola, the magic figure was quickly reached and visitors to Vicarage Road can now see a shiny new structure taking shape on the East side of the ground. You can’t knock them, they have delivered more in a few seasons that previous owners could ever have done in a lifetime.

Understandably there has been criticism of some of the players that have been brought in, but the negative vibes have largely been aimed at Technical Director Gianluca Nani, whose remit includes all ins and outs at Vicarage Road.

Despite this season being a disappointment, the Pozzos are here for the long haul and have a proven track record of success. It’s difficult to be anything other than positive about their ownership and the future under them.

Do Watford fans regret the departures of Sean Dyche and/or Gianfranco Zola?

Sean Dyche was harshly treated. He (and Malky Mackay before him) performed wonders with a paper thin squad and with the added distraction of ever increasing turmoil behind the scenes. His P45 was not the reward ‘Stone Cold’ Sean Dyche deserved and there are a few that maintain we would be in a better position now had his services been retained. Personally, I dispute that view.

After removing Sean Dyche, Zola was installed and a host of players arrived from around the globe. The new manager performed wonders in getting the team to gel and last year saw some of the best football ever seen at Vicarage Road. It was fantastic to watch. I think that Zola’s standing in the game helped him get those players to perform, and I do wonder if Dyche would have had the same reaction. We will never know of course and whilst it was always unlikely under the new regime, he should perhaps have been given the opportunity.

Zola will always have a place in the hearts of Watford fans. He delivered a memorable season last year and the Leicester Play-Off game will go down in football history. The mid-season form was utterly wretched though and his departure was inevitable. He left in typically stylish fashion, signing off with an open letter to Watford supporters. Whilst he is missed in many respects, his departure was the right thing.

How will Watford approach the game at Barnsley?

Most Watford supporters now accept that the season is over, but we have become very, very hard to beat at home and all concerned with the Hornets will want this to continue. The aim now must be to end 2013/14 on a high so that pre-season can start in a positive vein and we can mount a serious promotion campaign.

Barnsley are obviously fighting for their lives, but the Watford faithful will be hoping for a positive performance after shipping another late goal at Doncaster in midweek. The frustrating thing about this Watford squad is that the talent within the squad is vast, they just can’t put it together consistently. With the new stand going up we’ll have an increased capacity for next year, so the performances need to be positive to be in with a chance of putting bums on new seats. There is no option but to go for it against Barnsley.

Who are the key players to watch out for?

Gabrielle Angella is a fantastic defender whilst also posing a real threat from set pieces. He’s a fine player. Ikechi Anya is a pacy winger who can leave most defenders for dead, whilst Troy Deeney is a handful up front. The real star of the show however is Hungarian International Daniel Toszer. He oozes class and is surgical with his deadball delivery. He’s on loan from Genoa, and if I could be granted one Watford wish, it would be that we somehow find a way to sign him permanently. If we had have secured his services earlier in the season, I think we would be in the promotion shake up.

What's your score prediction?

I’m notoriously poor at predicting the outcome, let alone the score, but I have to hope that Watford will be up for this one - after a disappointing midweek defeat at Doncaster. As I mentioned, we are hard to beat and don’t concede many at home. I’m going to go for a 2-0 Watford win.

You can follow Mike on Twitter or listen in on the Podcast by subscribing via iTunes.

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Ian Wilkinson

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