The waiting is over, and the new Premier League season is here at last. In many respects, it was almost as if it had never been gone. City, Liverpool and Spurs all got off to assured starts, with Kane, Sterling and Salah doing what they do best and finding the back of the net with unerring precision.
For the purists who like football for football’s sake, however, the fortunes of the Big Six are only of passing interest. The real action, excitement and uncertainty lies in the chasing pack that will be jostling for position mid-table once everything shakes out after the first month or so.
The nearly men
A case in point is Watford Town. The Londoners finished a creditable 11th in the Premier League, but it was, of course, their remarkable FA Cup run that really captured the public attention. In 2019, there is a whole new army of followers drinking in the latest Watford news on Sportsbet.io, and while the team might not have got off to the most auspicious of starts, there is one man in particular who is hoping this will be a breakthrough season for both himself and his club.
Up through the ranks
Harry Forster is a young winger who is quietly building a reputation as one of the most promising teenagers in the Premier League. He has fought his way to the top tier the traditional way, first being spotted as an eight year old, playing for Sunday League club Bessingby Park Rangers in Ruislip, West London. He was invited to join the Watford Under-11s Academy the following year, and remained with the team throughout his teens. The mutual trust and loyalty resulted in him being given a senior contract at the age of 17 prior to the start of last season.
Nobody knows better than Forster just how much of an achievement that is in itself. He told the club website: “I’m the only one from that group that’s still here. Every year people are being cut off.”
A senior contract is, of course, a huge step, but this is only the beginning of Forster’s journey towards proving himself at the highest level. This year, his aim is to force his way into the first team and cement a position for himself. Judging by his performance in the pre-season and his colleagues’ fortunes in the opening match of the new campaign, that opportunity is likely to come sooner rather than later.
Squaring up to the best in Europe
Watford have certainly not shied away from high-profile fixtures over recent months. The FA Cup Final itself might have been a one-sided affair, but that shouldn’t detract from the magnitude of Watford’s achievement in getting there. Last month, The Hornets again pitted themselves against one of the best and most decorated teams in Europe. Ajax are champions of the Eredivision and came within an inch of reaching this year’s Champions League final. The team they fielded to play the Londoners was by no means second string and featured five of the men who played Tottenham in that unforgettable semi final.
Watford went for a blend of youth and experience, and Forster got the chance to prove himself on the left wing against opposition that must be several steps above anything he’s faced before. The teenager acquitted himself with flying colours. One incident that was particularly telling came midway through the first half. Facing a challenge from former Manchester United defender Daley Blind, a man with 64 senior internationals under his belt, Forster could easily have gone down. Few would have blamed him, but he chose to stay on his feet and meet the challenge man to man.
Watford took the decision to ring the changes at half time, sending out what was effectively a whole new XI. While they found their feet, Ajax found the back of the net, scoring the solitary goal of the encounter. However, the north London side will have left The Netherlands happy with the way the team coalesced. That will have made the result of their first Premier League encounter particularly disappointing.
Attack of the Seagulls
Unlike Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion had a wretched campaign last year. Indeed, they looked for all the world to be heading for relegation, and only scraped through thanks to being marginally less wretched than Fulham, Cardiff and Huddersfield.
This is the second year running that the two teams have met at Vicarage Road on the opening day of the season. Last year, The Hornets won comfortably, and a repeat performance was widely expected. Little wonder, then, that Watford looked a little shell-shocked as The Seagulls put three past them, ending a 12-year run of going undefeated on the first day of the season.
For Forster, however, this could spell opportunity. He will be desperate to get out in the middle and contribute towards getting Watford’s campaign on track. And judging by the maturity he showed pre-season, he could be exactly the right man for the job.