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  • "Within the time frame given by Anthony Matthews, I think I would go for, in no particular order:

    Filipo Galli - possibly the classiest player ever to don the golden shirt. It is a shame we only got 28 games from him, but it was a privilege to see him play for us. When in Milan, I saw Baresi and Rijkard for AC, Galli was every bit as good as those legends. Awesome!

    Paul Robinson - the hardest player in that timeframe and Watford through and through. Paul became a better alround player under Vialli. It is amazing he is still playing given his 100% effort every game. He is one of GT's type players - you don't worry if we give his all in every match. He just did.

    Malky MacKay - not the quickest, but a leader good in the air and his long passing created lots of opportunties for Marlon. The kind of player we need now.

    Robert Page - another leader who as a very young captain got 2 promotions, and one of the few players that did themselves justice in the Premier League for us. One of Vialli's biggest errors was to get rid. Him alongside Galli, Robert would have been even better thereafter.

    Neil Cox - another fine player, who could play across the back four. His management of the pay cut showed his committment to WFC as did the way he played when transfer listed. Whole hearted and honest.

    Adrian Mariappa - the sixth selection more difficult, but Adrian has matured into a fine consistent performer. Not the biggest at central defender but read the game well. Met a Palace fan recently who says he has been outstanding under Pulis - keeps his game simple, does not get flustered - no different from as he was here. All those consecutive games does not happen by chance.

    Outside of the 1996 onward time frame the best is John McClelland and Nigel Gibbs not that far behind. Colin Foster , Pat Rice, Ian Bolton (bar Glenn Hoddle and Paul Davis the best longpasser of ball in the early 80's imo) and Steve Sims were pretty useful too.

    McClelland turned the 1984/85 defence around with his deceptive pace, timing of his tackling and reading of the game. Nigel - the best man marker I have seen at WFC, Paul Simpson, Gordon Strachan et al never got a sniff if Nigel was put one on one with them. And who trained the same qualities in Lloyd Doyley in the reserves - yep Nigel Gibbs.

    I forgot how many great defenders we have had - shame we still concede too regularly though."
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In the first of a three-part series, Sports Editor Anthony Matthews selects his top six Watford defenders since the start of the 1996/97 season

My top six Hornets defenders - plus one

My top six Hornets defenders - plus one

First published in Sport
Last updated
by , Group Sports Editor

Come up with a list of my top six Watford defenders since the start of my Hornets-reporting days coincided with Kenny Jackett’s first league game in management at Dean Court (as it was then), Bournemouth, in August 1996. It seemed a simple enough idea at the outset.

Then I decided to throw the question out on Twitter to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently overlooked anyone. Half-a-dozen quickly seemed too limiting but I’ve stuck by my original intention.

The starting point for a list of defenders needs to be players who can, well, defend. But this isn’t about technical ability alone. I wanted players who bring or brought more to the table – character, passion, commitment, longevity where possible and a desire to respond to adversity.

Some or all of these traits, to varying extents, were or are displayed by Gabriele Angella, Clarke Carlisle, Marco Cassetti, Neil Cox, Marcus Gayle, Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay and Adrian Mariappa among others but here are the six I’ve opted for:

Watford Observer:

Jay DeMerit

First on the list due to the alphabet but the selection that caused the most deliberation. But the now Vancouver Whitecaps player got the nod because his story was so appealing a film was made of it. After coming over from America, DeMerit played for Northwood in a pre-season game against the Hornets and was subsequently signed by Ray Lewington. Watford were rewarded with six years service during which the USA international became skipper and, perhaps most memorably, scored the opening goal in the play-off final success at the Millennium Stadium.

Watford Observer:

Lloyd Doyley

The current ‘Mr Watford’ who’s had more managers at Vicarage Road than most players have in their entire careers. The majority have tried to cast him aside but have quickly realised the error of their ways because the popular 31-year-old remains a strong and consistent defender. Doyley is seven appearances short of breaking into Watford’s all-time top five and, if he can remain fit, maintain his form and keep getting new contracts at Vicarage Road, he will be in with a chance of breaking Luther Blissett’s all-time club record.

Watford Observer:

Nigel Gibbs

Legend is a term banded about too frequently but it thoriughly applies to this man. But for injury, ‘Sir’ Nigel would be Watford’s all-time record appearance maker, although he does hold the record for most starts. It should be recalled that Gibbs was released by Graham Taylor at the end of the 1995/96 campaign, but he came back for pre-season, proved his fitness, earned a short-term deal, which was to be extended and missed only one game in the season under Jackett. That was the measure of the man, as was his trademark consistency. The manner in which Gibbs’ career at Vicarage Road was ultimately ended remains a disgrace but that is a distasteful episode I’ve no desire to revisit in the context of this list. Put simply, one of Watford’s all-time greats.

Watford Observer:

Robert Page

It can be argued Watford have had better defenders in the past 18 years but for passion, commitment and leadership qualities ‘Pagey’ has to be included. His Hornets honours read captain of the second division winning team of 1998, captain of the victorious Wembley play-off side 12 months later and Player of the Season in the Premiership the season after that. That’s some three-year CV.

Watford Observer:

Steve Palmer

Before Almen Abdi came along, Watford had another ‘Professor’. Palmer could have made it onto my list of top six midfielders (more of that next week), but he gets the nod as the other half of that superb central-defensive axis alongside Page in Taylor’s second time at the helm. A player who personified the word selfless, you knew exactly what you’d get with Palmer irrespective of what position he was asked to play. A superb reader of the game, Player of the Season for the Division Two title-winning campaign only to be foolishly let go in my opinion when Gianluca Vialli took charge.

Watford Observer:

Paul Robinson

Remember those moments when ‘Robbo’ was about to launch into a challenge, closing your eyes and thinking ‘don’t do it, Paul’? But you knew full well that he would - and normally did. Take that edge away though, and you wouldn’t have had the same player. Totally committed, passionate and the ideal man to have in the trenches when the chips were down. But a player doesn’t make more than 250 appearances for his home-town club – and more than 650 in total – unless he is good at his job. And that is why ‘Robbo’ is still going strong in the second tier of English football at 35. As for his career yellow-card count? It now stands at 157.

Watford Observer:

And one extra...Filippo Galli

Let’s be blunt, Vialli’s season had few redeeming features. But amid the over-paid mediocrity frequently served up, we were fortunate to be treated to a 38-year-old in the twilight of his career who broughthis own brand of Italian defensive style to Vicarage Road long before Cassetti and Angella landed in this corner of south-west Herts. Galli oozed class, natural authority and it didn’t take long to see why he had won five Serie A titles and three European Cups in a glittering career. He knew when to get the ball down and play and when not to but could also scrap when necessary. The former AC Milan defender only made 28 starts for Watford but I, for one, remember him fondly. Filippo Galli was cool.

All pictures: Action Images.

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