Well then, where do I start with this.
Watford’s trip to the American Express Community Stadium was nothing short of a crucial point in the Hornets’ season. Three mortifying consecutive losses to Burnley, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield — the latter being arguably Watford’s worst performance since the back end of last season — piled increasing pressure on head coach Marco Silva and his team to produce something for the fans to marvel at on their trip to the south coast.
Silva had little to choose from regarding his team selection; the indispensable Abdoulaye Doucouré was suspended having reached the yellow card limit for this half of the season, while Troy Deeney and Marvin Zeegelaar were also sidelined after recent red cards — a shocking disciplinary record, though you could argue that some of the decisions were harsh. Two more pivotal players, Kiko Femenía and Will Hughes, were not available due to injury problems.
Doucouré’s absence, coupled with Etienne Capoue’s tragic performances of late, meant that Silva opted for a holding-midfield duo of Ben Watson and Tom Cleverley: not exactly what one would call a strong Premier League partnership by any means. Though, to be fair to both of them, neither had what I would class as catastrophically poor games — certainly not to the extent that Capoue has been capable of, that’s for sure.
Coming into the game, the mood was damp and colourless. There was that heart-wrenching feeling that although this was the sort of game Watford could use to turn their form around in, the drab and dreary atmosphere would continue for the full 90 minutes and into Christmas.
Watford started dismally. There were chances for Tomer Hemed, Anthony Knockeart and Davy Pröpper in fairly quick succession. The defence looked shaky, and I think most of the boys in yellow were more surprised than relieved that they were somehow still on level terms. Furthermore, despite Cleverley’s characteristic display of tenacity and relentless effort, the midfield and defence were being sliced open at will by Brighton’s more advanced players.
However, the Hornets gradually clawed back into the game and started to show a bit of promise. Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t promise in the sense that the game started to tip in Watford’s favour — they simply stiffened up and finally found a rhythm to their build-up play. Their best chance of the half fell in the 42nd minute, when Richarlison weaved through Brighton’s back line only to place a weak shot straight into the gloves of Mathew Ryan: the least occupied man of the whole afternoon.
There was hope that the Hornets would come out in the second half and attack from the whistle, as had been the case earlier on in the campaign. Yet the game remained tightly contested, with Brighton maintaining the upper hand and their dominance increasing as the minutes passed.
After 64 minutes, the deadlock was broken — and, shock-horror, it was not Watford that had found the net. Pascal Gross, who had been a bright spark in one of the dullest affairs of the season so far, was allowed acres of space on the edge of the area and the entirety of Heurelho Gomes’ net to aim at. The German shifted the ball onto his right foot and shot; his effort was hardly full of conviction, and Gomes looked like he would pull of a relatively comfortable save to his left side.
However, it was a save reminiscent of the rest of Watford’s season to date: the phrase “when you try your best but you don’t succeed” sums it up fairly well. The Brazilian got a hand to the ball, yet it seemed to bounce up from the underside of his arm and into the net.
At this point, the 3,025 travelling supporters gave up all hope of salvaging something on this grey day by the coast. Only the August-October Watford were capable of getting back into a game after conceding the first goal.
The balance of play began to tip back and forth continually in favour of both sides — there were clear chances to kill the game for Brighton’s Lewis Dunk and Tomer Hemed, while Christian Kabasele, Richarlison and substitute Stefano Okaka were granted golden opportunities to earn a point for Watford in the dying stages of the game.
However, both nets remained untroubled for the remainder of the match, meaning the hosts would walk away with a vital three points to celebrate over Christmas, while the visitors continued their poor rut. Poor is too weak a word to describe this epic capitulation that us Watford fans are experiencing, yet I don’t know if there is a single word in the English vocabulary that would accurately express the extent of this incredible downturn in form, so I have used the polite version of the majority of the words I uttered during my time at the AmEx.
Our form in the last six games (against Manchester United, Spurs, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Brighton), from which we have picked up just one point, has been easily relegation standard; in fact, it has been the worst of any team in the Premier League. That’s worse than all of the teams in the relegation zone, and worse than Brighton who despite beating us have still only managed two goals in their last seven games — yet somehow they looked dangerous every single time they attacked our goal.
Looking at our last three games, how we didn’t even manage to obtain a solitary point from any of them is criminal as far as the players and manager are concerned. The Watford from earlier in the season would have taken full points from all of those games.
I’ve had to use the phrases “should have”, “would have” and “could have” far too many times already this season. Here is a list of games we lost even though we should have or could have been victorious in since we beat Arsenal on October 14th: Chelsea, Stoke, Everton, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Brighton. To say it would’ve been fair if we’d won all of them would be ridiculous, but say we’d picked up four wins and two draws, we would have 36 points and would be cherishing life at 4th in the table. That may sound unrealistic but, as I said, these are games we should have and could have won.
That win against Arsenal sparked rumours between Marco Silva and Everton, and form has been dire ever since. I personally believe the correlation is just a coincidence, as Watford is a stepping stone in Silva’s career and even if he wanted to take the job at Goodison Park it is within his best interest’s to do well at Vicarage Road. But perhaps the players don’t have confidence in playing for a manager that is so blatantly not committed to the club — that would seem a more plausible explanation.
The squad has been hit with Watford’s iconic injury and suspension crisis, an excuse which is justifiably used after one poor performance — but after two full months of deplorable inconsistency, the root of the Hornet’s problems undoubtedly lies elsewhere. Clearly part of it is a lack of game management and winning mentality within the coaching staff and the squad, and I believe that can only be rectified if we have a strong January transfer window. Otherwise, I have no doubts that Watford will be right in the midst of a relegation scrap before long.
Christmas dinner seriously won’t be all that delicious this year — all my stomach aches for is a win.