Ryan Porteous was extra pleased with Watford’s 4-0 opening-day win over QPR. “After a tough seven-week pre-season, it was good to get the rewards because I didn’t have a lot of time off,” he said.
Watford’s players had a shorter-than-normal summer holiday as new head coach Valerien Ismael wanted to have seven weeks with his players. The last game of the season was May 8 against Stoke, with pre-season starting just 44 days later on June 19. It meant internationals, such as Porteous, had their time squeezed after the end of the campaign.
The Scotland international’s break was cut to 28 days, with a training camp in Spain from June 5 prior to European Championship qualifiers against Norway and Georgia.
“My last game with Scotland was on June 20, which finished about 11 o’clock at night in Glasgow because it was delayed by an hour because of heavy rain and I was back in (at Watford) a few hours later on June 21,” said Porteous.
The central defender featured in both victories (2-1 in Norway and 2-0 against Georgia at Hampden Park) but realised making a good impression was wise.
“With a new manager coming in, he was always likely to want everybody back in a little bit earlier, but it wasn’t full-on and he’s looked after us well,” he said. “But there are worse things to do with your summer than going away to an international camp in Spain, then taking six points against Norway and Georgia.”
The show of commitment from Porteous went down well with the new head coach, who by that point realised that he needed to change the dynamic among the squad. Ismael highlighted that five players had turned up late to pre-season training on the first day.
“Since this manager came in, during my first conversations with him he asked what we can do better and my first answer was, ‘attitude and discipline’,” explained Porteous. “Other people may not perceive them as big things, but simple things like being late can create a bad atmosphere within the group.”
Porteous arrived from Hibernian in January when Watford were in a position to push for promotion, but form dwindled as Slaven Bilic was replaced by Chris Wilder.
“There’s a lot of leaders out there who maybe came up short last season, myself included,” he admits. “When the chips are down, we need to step up and we’ve made a great start.”
There’s been a huge amount of change between the scenes with 17 players leaving — including star names Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro —and five new signings. Coupled with a new head coach and staff there’s a new captain (goalkeeper Dan Bachmann) and leadership group including Ben Hamer, Wesley Hoedt, Jake Livermore, Imran Louza and Ken Sema.
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There appears, for now at least, to be a collective spirit in evidence. The biggest change from last season?
“Attitude and discipline within the group on a day-to-day basis. There are lots of examples in the Championship of teams who might not be the greatest football players but they do very well as a team,” he said.
The pre-season work saw Watford hit the ground running against QPR. After 34 seconds, Tom Dele-Bashiru scored the opener, before Louza, Matheus Martins and Vakoun Bayo made it four within 43 minutes. Watford looked in control with 71 per cent possession and 24 shots on goal — 13 on target.
But getting carried away would undo that work and a long, hard season awaits, says Porteous: “The real test, character-wise, will be showing what we can do if we’re 1-0 down rather than 4-0 up.”
(Top photo: Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)