Marco Silva’s sacking from his post as Watford manager seemed to bemuse the rest of the Premier League; the club were sitting in 10th, a position deemed to be lofty for a club of Watford’s stature. But the majority of Hornets fans feel Silva’s sacking was justified due to an abysmal run of form in the league and were pleased to see Javi Gracia succeed Silva on the same day of the Portuguese’s departure. In some ways, the trip to Southampton in the FA Cup was a bit of a crunch match for Watford — an opportunity to prove the rest of the footballing world wrong.
However, as Watford fans know only too well this season, it’s very often the hope that kills you in football.
The atmosphere in the terraces seemed to be slightly improved as kick off edged closer — fans were intrigued to see how Gracia would approach the game from a tactical point of view. The Spaniard worked up a reputation for defensive organisation during his spell at Malaga a couple of seasons ago (his side conceded just 35 goals in 38 games in 2015/16’s La Liga season), making his appointment even more of a relief for Watford fans given our tragic frailties at the back of late.
Truthfully, though, the early signs were that even Gracia’s defensive tactics couldn’t prevent us from conceding goals. Within four minutes of the start of the game, Jack Stephens pounced on a loose ball in the Watford penalty area to give the hosts an early lead. There wasn’t much in the way of defensive organisation in those few seconds of football.
Euphoria for the Southampton fans, who have also been going through a torrid run of form recently; disbelief for the travelling contingent of 3,700 Hornets, as they knew they were on course to witness yet another disappointing day at the office. The Watford of the start of the season would’ve been perfectly capable of recovering from this position — in fact, I’d go as far as saying it would have been probable. In recent weeks I haven’t been able to believe that I’m watching the same team that beat Arsenal about three months ago.
A drab first half, in which Watford looked lifeless and disjointed, nearly ended in the best possible way for the Hornets as an audacious chip from Richarlison came extremely close to catching Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy off guard. That was what we seemed to have resorted to — a below-par midfield and an attack that was struggling to gel meant that we never looked like finding a way of breaking through Southampton’s determined defence.
So, a dreadful first half performance, conceding a goal after four minutes, and offering nothing in the way of attack for the remainder of the 45. Things weren’t looking up as far as Javi Gracia was concerned, however none of the fans were blaming this lifelessness on the Spaniard; there were eleven players out on that field that were given jobs and had failed to deliver them to an adequate standard. The second half, though, was an ample chance to rectify all that had gone wrong in the first. Our last encounter with Southampton a couple of weeks ago was very much a tale of two halves, and we needed this one to be too.
But the game maintained its flow for the most part, with Southampton striking the bar and squandering a couple of decent opportunities to finally see the game to bed. Watford had chances, too: Richarlison whipped a splendid ball across the face of the Southampton goal but no one was there to get on the end of it; Stefano Okaka did well to connect with a Roberto Pereyra cross, though he failed to direct it goalwards; and, in the dying seconds of the game, Christian Kabasele, one of the players who I felt could hold their head high after after such a dispiriting performance, had all the time in the world to head home from a José Holebas cross but was unable to even hit the target.
The whistle blew for full-time. Boos rang around the Watford end. Fights broke out in the stands, and abuse was hurled at the players as they approached the away end in order to applaud the support. Unsurprisingly, a few players openly reacted negatively to the abuse and even came over to question the fans.
What struck me most from Saturday’s trip to the south coast was that we really are a club in crisis. A sacked manager, whose successor has got off to the worst possible start; a serious lack of unity both in the dressing room and on the terraces; a gutless group of footballers that don’t seem bothered about the outcome of our games or the long-term future of the club; and a lack of activity in the transfer window, meaning it’s this same gutless group of footballers that will dictate whether or not Watford can maintain their Premier League status for another year.
If the owners aren’t looking to invest enough money to keep us up — our technical director, Filippo Giraldi, said he is “happy with the squad”, which baffles me — then there’s only one man that can turn our form around: Javi Gracia.
There’s still no doubt in my mind that Gracia’s appointment was the right move for the long-term future of the football club — if there is someone that can keep us up, he is probably the most credible person for the job. Plus, it would be far too harsh to judge a manager on one cup game, even despite the fact that it was against a Premier League rival. My concerns lie with the players; has this squad got the bottle and determination to survive a proper, cruel relegation scrap? Watford haven’t really been in this situation since their promotion to the top flight in 2015, so I’m sure neutrals will be intrigued to see how the club go about fixing this crisis of results.
However, one thing these next four months certainly won’t be for any Watford fan is intriguing. All we want is to see ourselves cross that line, to know that we are safe to fight out another season at the highest level. The pessimist that inhabits my mind just can’t see a happy ending to this quite remarkable saga.
We need four or five wins from the final fourteen games of this season. Are we capable of pulling it off? I believe so, yes. But whether we will or won’t is another matter entirely.
What are your thoughts Watford fans? Let us know in the comments below!