SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Zola-powered Hornets eyeing place in play-offs

Manager Gianfranco Zola
Manager Gianfranco Zola
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GIANFRANCO Zola is a Chelsea legend, ex-Italy star and a former winner of the Footballer of the Year award.

In management he is in the relatively humble surroundings of Vicarage Road but there is a strong Italian influence there and a club who want their current status to be the start of something big.

A revolution brought about by new owners the Pozzo family, who also own Udinese and Spanish club Granada, has brought in Zola as manager, transformed the squad and launched a strong Championship challenge.

The Hornets made 16 signings in the summer and currently have 14 players on loan, all but one of them from Udinese or Granada.

The heavy reliance on loan signings was seen as controversial in some quarters but it seems to have helped the club to compete with the division’s big guns without spending as much as them in the transfer market.

Watford are currently 11th in the table, two points off the top six, and are unbeaten in their last five games.

In that spell they have beaten Leicester (who outplayed Wednesday on Saturday), Wolves and Leeds, and drawn with form team Millwall and Blackpool.

Millwall’s rise to sixth after they were down near the bottom with Wednesday at one stage is one of the things that encourages Owls captain Martin Taylor, who looks set to face his former club.

“We’ve lost four in a row and we need to improve, but we’re putting in 100 per cent effort and working on things,” he said, confident that Wednesday will not stay in the bottom three.

“There’s a long way to go before that crunch time in March/April when you start counting down the games. Look at Millwall: they weren’t too far from us, now they’re sixth. We can put a run together. But we can’t just keep saying that, We need to start winning games. We know that.”

Taylor was in the Watford team before Wednesday signed him in August.

“It’s always good to play against your old team,” he says, knowing that he will be able to give teammates some insight into the way the Hornets play.

“They used to be renowned as a long-ball team; the way Zola wants to play is to make the pitch as big as possible and pass and play through teams.

“He’s changed the formation a bit since I was there. He plays three up front, with wide men coming off the lines. there’s various things.

“Quite a few players came in during the transfer window, so I don’t know everyone, but they’re still fresh in my mind so I’m sure I’ll be able to give a few tips.

“We need to go out there with confidence and put in a performance. Winning at home is getting vital now.”