A YEAR ago Dougie Freedman stood on the touchline at Watford and hit back at suggestions his side were sliding towards a relegation fight.
“If you know what you are talking about,” he said, “you would see that we’re not far away from going on a run.”
In the end he was proved entirely right. From 20th position in early February Wanderers missed out on the play-offs by a whisker – no mean feat.
Twelve months on, and as a 1-0 defeat at Ipswich Town left the Whites starring down a similar barrel, the manager’s answers to the same line of questioning were much less convincing.
Honest to a fault, the Scot is trying hard to make supporters understand the constraints he is working under.
His criticism in the light of the 7-1 hammering at Reading highlighted his frustration at working with a half-rebuilt squad, many of whom have simply not performed since dropping out of the Premier League.
A few weeks later, the sale of one such player, David Ngog, to Swansea seemed to have opened a door to some desperately needed fresh blood – but by 11pm on Friday night Freedman had failed to strengthen the areas he had been expected to, leaving the club’s fans frustrated and mystified.
That fans’ favourite Craig Dawson – the man whose arrival sparked last season’s incredible run up the table – nearly signed for local rivals Wigan Athletic merely added to the air of aggravation.
Wanderers’ inability to add to a wafer-thin defence, and the decision to loan out striker Craig Davies to Preston in order to bring in another midfielder in Liam Trotter were all difficult to substantiate.
But as Freedman looked back at another 90 minutes of missed chances and a game-changing individual error from keeper Andy Lonergan, he refused to share the growing concern that the rest of this season will be spent battling to stay out of the bottom three.
“I’m not concerned performance-wise, as any fan who travelled down will have seen,” he said after David McGoldrick’s penalty had settled the game at Portman Road.
“We’ve created opportunities and defended very, very well. It’s one rush of blood that has cost us.
“We’re not in a blame culture. That seems to happen with to two or three people in the squad consistently, which isn’t helping the players.
“I’m not concerned because we’ve got four out of the next five games at home where we have got to pick up points. If we don’t do that, then I would be concerned.
“And that run of games coming up, that’s what I’m looking at now.”
Wanderers’ home form this season hardly gives cause for optimism.
A failure to take chances against QPR and Ipswich was magnified by the fact Lukas Jutkiewicz was the only fit striker at the club after Davies’s departure – and the fact he, Marvin Sordell and Tom Eaves had all netted for their respective loan clubs.
Jermaine Beckford could be in contention next weekend but Freedman insists a lack of strikers is not currently his cause for concern.
“We create opportunities every week,” he said. “We’ve had three or four great ones again – the problem is the individual errors that you can’t legislate for.
“No-one can tell me that it wasn’t a spirited performance or that the commitment wasn’t there. We dug in and battled.
“But I know we didn’t do enough at 1-0 down to go and score. But that wasn’t because of the gameplan, it wasn’t the lack of strikers, it was taking our chances.”