Championship: Watford v Swansea CityIt wasn't just the fact that Brendan Rodgers left Watford for Reading after less than a season that infuriated fans of the Hertfordshire club, but the manner of his departure.
Given that his family lived in Reading, where he had worked as academy manager for nearly a decade, and that he had wrought an obvious improvement from Watford during his six months in charge, many always considered him a leading candidate for the Royals' vacant post after Steve Coppell's resignation last summer. But then he gave an interview to a local journalist in which, even compared with standard-issue speculation-dampening flummery, he constructed quite a petard ? with which he was later to be royally hoisted. "When I am asked about other clubs, people are questioning my integrity, and I always have integrity," he said. "I am loyal and find it disloyal when asked about other clubs."
Within a fortnight he was gone.
At the time, Watford's fans were braying for a chance of revenge. They needed patience, though: when last season's fixture list came out, Reading were due to visit Watford in the penultimate fixture. The fear was that the Hornets, among the favourites to go down last season and this, would find themselves relegated at the hands of their new hate figure. As it turned out it was the match when they sealed safety, and Rodgers had been sacked four months earlier anyway.
"My gut feeling at the time was to leave, but there is no doubt, when I look back in hindsight, that I shouldn't have," Rodgers said this week. "There were a couple of comments in the press which were obviously misconstrued and that left me in a worse light than it actually was. I wouldn't have left for any other club than Reading? but I look back now and realise it wasn't the right thing to do."
Watford fans' ire has been calmed somewhat by the £750,000 the club received from Reading for Rodgers' services, and the popularity of his replacement, Malky Mackay. Tonight Rodgers returns to Vicarage Road for the first time, certain to be greeted with derision but probably more concerned about stopping the Championship's second most potent attack. Swansea, yet to win away this season, will be buoyed by memories of their last win on the road: nine games ago, at Vicarage Road in March.
League One: Colchester United v Dagenham & Redbridge
Without a standout match, this is a good opportunity to acknowledge Colchester's impressive start to the season, which has left them with one of just four unbeaten records in the Football League ? and certainly the least likely. In the Premier League Manchester United's success is not much of a surprise, while Fulham have built on last season's success by winning one and drawing five of their six games to date. Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers are the third unbeaten side. But few could have predicted that Colchester, who lost eight and won just two of the final 14 games of last season and then saw their manager, Aidy Boothroyd, walk out to join Coventry City, would be the last side in Leagues One and Two to experience defeat. John Ward's charges, who disposed of bottom-of-the-table Tranmere Rovers at home over the weekend, have an excellent chance to extend their record tonight with another home game, against second-bottom Dagenham & Redbridge ? something of an Essex derby.
"I'm absolutely delighted with the team and with their attitude," said Ward, Graham Taylor's former assistant at Watford and Aston Villa, who has a habit of prompting clear if not always purist-pleasing improvements in the sides he manages. "I'm finding out more and more and am learning very quickly, but I'm encouraged that we can do what I said at the start of the season and that's improve what is available to us."
League Two: Port Vale v Shrewsbury TownUndisputed match of the day in League Two sees Shrewsbury visit the side that knocked them off the top of the table on Saturday. "They'll be coming here to knock us off our pedestal, but we'll be ready," roared the Vale manager, Micky Adams. "It's a big test with it being first against second, but it's fantastic to play such a big game so early in the season."
Vale have had Marc Richards' goals and a defence tighter than Silvio Berlusconi's face-skin to thank for their rise to the summit. They last let in a goal in August, four games ago and counting, giving them the second best defence in the league (behind ultra-parsimonious Accrington Stanley, who had conceded a mind-bendingly impressive one league goal in seven games before they shipped two at Vale on Saturday).
Posing the principal threat to that record will be the Shrews' top scorer, Jake Robinson, who like Richards has scored six already this season. Adams, though, is well placed to work out his weaknesses, having managed him at Brighton and Hove Albion two seasons ago. "He's a player we have to pay special attention to," he said. "He has good pace and, on his day, can cause havoc at this level." Since then, though, Robinson has "made a few little changes in my personal lifestyle", principally to "sleep patterns and what I'm eating", and considers himself a changed man. Quite how changed Adams might find out tonight.
"It's one of those on paper that could be a really cracking game," said the Shrewsbury manager, Graham Turner, the kind of comment fans often try to avoid for fear of all but guaranteeing a turgid 0-0 draw.
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