Report news now! Text pictures & video to 80360, starting message with WITNESS then leave a space
Part one of Watford manager Sean Dyche's season review
He may not have used the word himself but the term vindication came to mind when Hornets boss Sean Dyche sat down with the Watford Observer at the end of his debut season as a manager.
Dyche finished his first campaign in management in 11th place; the highest Watford have finished for four years, but it was not an easy start for the former centre half.
I was among those at November’s fans forum when, with Watford just one place above the relegation zone, Dyche was asked several blunt questions by supporters, who made their feelings about the manager clear.
Dyche’s tactics, team selection and his very appointment were questioned by sections of the fan base in his first few months in the job and other managers may have reacted angrily to the criticism. But he has remained composed and respectful throughout this season, during the good times and the bad.
The ex-Watford defender was adamant things would turn around during the poor run of results and continually praised the work being done on the training ground by his players and staff.
He did not blame officials, his players or the club’s small budget for his side’s league position, he remained focussed on the job at hand and with time, the results turned around.
The league position of 21st after 16 games, turned to 17th by New Years Day and one defeat in their final 13 games saw the Hornets finish in 11th place, despite facing five play-off chasing sides in their final six matches.
Summing up the season, Dyche said: “I think the main thing that I have been pleased with was the coming together of the players and the staff of course, and also the people who work hard behind the scenes at the club. But a big part of it is the fans, and our connection with them.
“It is fair to say that usually comes with success and in the early days that was hard to align with people’s expectations of what they were seeing, what they thought they wanted to see and what they thought the outcome would be. But over time, that connection has been quite apparent.
“They have seen a new group of players and I think they have some new heroes – and I use the term generally and not in a literal way. These are Watford players who are giving everything they can for the club and that has been apparent as well; the work ethic, the desire of the group and the will and demand to do what is required to win a match.
“I am really pleased because that is the message I wanted to send. I use the term one-club mentality, and I don’t use it lightly. I use it because I believe in it. If everyone is pointing in the right direction then that is the time when you can achieve things.”
I sat down with Dyche two days after he was promoted to the top job back in June and the importance of the one-club mentality was among the first things he spoke about. It is an issue he has discussed on numerous occasions throughout this season and it is not just a nice catchphrase or ‘management speak’; the end results can be seen on the pitch.
A one-club mentality, togetherness, respect and desire are terms he has used on a regular basis and when you watch Dyche’s Watford – win, lose or draw – they can be seen in abundance.
Dyche explained: “We believe in key, core values as a group. I believe in them in my personal life, let alone my professional life, and they are still the most fashionable things you can have as a team and as a person at times. Without trying to pontificate, if you have respect, honesty, desire, passion, pride and integrity; they are all things that I think are important in individuals and a team.
“We agreed on certain key, core values at the beginning of the season and, come what may, they would remain intact.
“So early in the season when things weren’t going quite our way, we had them to galvanise the group and hold them together; knowing that the work on a technical and tactical level was ongoing, knowing the physical side would be good, like it has always been since I have been at Watford, and knowing the mental side would grow on performances and results, both individually and collectively.
“That was a big part of what we believed would start to bring the performances, which then brings the crowds and then develops the connection. It was a case of believing in those things even when times were not so good early in the season.”
Watford had only won twice in the first 13 matches and had slipped into the bottom three. Questions were being asked of Dyche and his team after they had lost four games on the bounce, shipping 11 goals in the process.
With the pressure on, the Hornets then beat Peterborough United 3-2 in front of the Vicarage Road crowd and won three games out of the next four – losing just once in 11 matches.
From the outside, it seemed the Peterborough win was a turning point in the season, and arguably Dyche's young managerial career.
“I think people look at it that way,” Dyche said.
“For me as a young manager, the first win at Reading is as big as anything, and it was a very good performance on the day. Then you have a win against Millwall, when you can’t believe they took a 1-0 lead that night and we turned it around to win 2-1.
“The Peterborough game was slightly different because of the perceptions of people outside [of the club].
“I don't like to concern myself with too much outside, I like to concentrate on what is going on inside and I have good people around me who guide me with regards to what is going on outside. But I am not naive enough to not know that there were big questions being asked and there were people not just asking questions, but making strong accusations about what they thought of me, the club and where it was going etcetera.
“I have had many challenges like that as a professional and that is when you are most alive; you think, ‘right this is what needs to be done and outcomes have to happen, no matter how they come.’ “So I was well aware of that but we believed in the work we were doing, believed in the players we had and were trying to get the best out of them. Results are just evidence.
“Don’t get me wrong, results are important but it doesn’t mean you are not doing good things behind the scenes because the team are not always winning.
“There is still good work going on and I made that clear on many occasions. Equally I know the results matter so that was a very important result. The next win against Brighton was also a very important result and we played very well in both games.
“Then we were a lineman’s decision away from getting a very good point at Middlesbrough and then we win the next one. Then the people who were questioning you most vehemently were saying, ‘okay let’s have a look at it and calm things down.’ “The amazing thing about the early season spell is that people often now say we were a bit unlucky – well they weren’t saying that then I think it is fair to say.
“But that is a nice situation because we have realigned some people’s thinking possibly and they go, ‘well actually I was a bit caught up in it then but when I look back, we were unlucky.’ “There were a couple of refereeing decisions at Coventry. How we didn’t beat Derby at home was a statistical anomaly if nothing else and all of a sudden your start would have looked different if those things had happened.
“It was interesting for me as a young manager developing; that period of three wins in four were an important period but I did think good things were happening any way at that time.”
When Watford were sitting in the relegation zone in October, few would have thought they would have been just six points from the play-offs entering the final month of the season.
Dyche is a level-headed and balanced manager, in the sense that he rarely slates his side and does not over hype his team either.
Unlike in previous seasons, Dyche did not publicly state his side’s points target and when it came to the chance of reaching the play-offs, he neither played down or built-up the possibility of making the top six.
When asked whether an 11th place finish surpassed his expectations coming into the campaign, Dyche replied: “I was very open minded about it. People always want you to put a target on it and say we are heading for this and that. Sometimes it can be a good idea – and you can have mini targets – but sometimes you can close people down, where you can achieve your target and then switch off.
“I didn’t want that; I wanted an open mindednesss and I wanted us to say what can we achieve? Let’s be open to what we can achieve rather than just being open to one target.
“The first mini target was to have a team that is strong, know their jobs, are organised and are fit enough to do their jobs. Can we get a group to be that? Then can we mould that into a team that can play in a manner that not only wins but also provides good value for supporters?
“Can they score goals and stop goals going in? Which sounds simple but is a key fundamental of the game. And where can that take us?
“Then gradually during the course of the season, you realign it and create new mini targets – right lads, we have these results, now let's get these results and so on. But without it being so fixed that people then think we have achieved our target and become closed-minded. It was important we kept an open mind.”
The second part of Dyche’s interview with the Watford Observer