Despite the imminent focus being on Premier League survival, Watford have made sure to keep an eye on the future as well, setting up for success regardless of their future tier. The Hornets have over 20 players out on loan to other teams, with the most exciting temporary departures coming in the second and third tiers of English football. Many members of the Watford loan army were in action during this midweek set of fixtures, with five players’ performances discussed below.
Watford Loan Update
Championship Duo Continue to Make Noise
Twenty-one-year-old Tom Dele-Bashiru was set to be a huge part of Watford’s 2020/21 promotion campaign until an untimely injury in the fourth match of the season sidelined him for the rest of the campaign. Thus, this season, the Hornets knew it would be best for him to return to Watford-necessary levels via a loan to the second tier.
The versatile midfielder has hit the ground running for Reading, scoring three goals and providing one assist in 11 Championship appearances. One of those goals came in the Royals’ agonising 3-2 defeat against Blackpool on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Philip Zinckernagel has scored twice and provided six assists in 13 appearances for Nottingham Forest. Watford’s January signing – who struggled for starting minutes under Xisco Munoz despite his remarkable assist output when on the pitch – had an uncharacteristic performance against Bristol City, getting subbed off in the 77th minute. However, the 26-year-old was playing in a less-natural attacking-midfield role, when he has found most success either on the wings or in the further-advanced central-attacking-minded positions.
League One Watford Loan Watch: Disappointment and Triumph
Goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg has performed so well on loan with League One side Doncaster Rovers that rumours have swirled suggesting he might be recalled in January to then be loaned out (or sold) to a Championship side. Watford also loaned 18-year-old forward Tiago Cukur to the side sitting at the bottom of the third level of English football. However, the former Feyenoord youth player has only scored one goal in 13 matches.
On Tuesday, Doncaster’s poor run of form continued with a 1-0 defeat against Gillingham. Cukur made minimal impact, failing to muster a shot on target, so he was taken off the pitch in the 76th minute. Dahlberg only made one save. Nonetheless, he performed well for the rest of the game, and the goal he conceded would have likely been chalked off by VAR due to an opposition player pushing the 22-year-old into the ground.
Centre-back Mattie Pollock, who Watford signed from Grimsby Town last summer, has been a star for Cheltenham Town this season. His aerial prowess is already at a top-flight level. The 20-year-old put in yet another stellar performance in his temporary team’s 3-1 victory over Morecambe on Tuesday. He won ten out of 11 aerial duels, made the most passes out of anyone on the pitch, and even provided an assist. His pass to the goal came in the form of a cushioned header following a long throw-in (he won the initial header, as well as the assist-header the team’s second touch after his first header).
When considering on-loan players Watford are missing the most, there is a fair argument to be made that Pollock is at the top of that list. The Hornets are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and are short on fit centre-backs, even with the recent signing of Nicolas Nkoulou. If Pollock continues to put in strong performances as he did midweek, the Watford loan watchers might have no choice but to convince the hierarchy to recall him in January.