Watford FC: Underachieving or Over-Expectant?

As fans lit up the Vicarage Road stands in front of the Sky Sports cameras last Saturday, this author couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride. Gone are the days of monotonous and wearisome support among the Watford faithful, gone are the days of quiet but vehement indignation of the side. It has been replaced by a stronger and more positive force that creates a friendly yet passionate atmosphere at one of the Premier League’s smallest stadiums. Vicarage Road has become a yellow-clad, bouncing battle-ground where opposition have to compete against over 20,000 Hornets to take anything from the game. However defeats to Crystal Palace and Arsenal in the last two home outings and a draw away to Bournemouth have not reflected the performance in the stands. So is it time we as fans start to lower our expectations and prepare for a season battling relegation or are we expecting better from a team underachieving?

After a defeat to Crystal Palace, fans wouldn’t have been wrong in thinking we could have taken more points from the game. The threat of Dwight Gayle had been curbed and the midfield had stepped up on Cabaye to reduce his time on the ball, Watford looked like a side capable of taking all three points. But history likes to repeat itself and, after another strong defensive performance, Watford found themselves on the wrong end of another refereeing decision that saw Saha fouled in the box and Cabaye slot home with 19 minutes to play, giving Palace a narrow 1-0 win.

A week on and lady luck smiled on the Hornets as Ighalo pickpocketed Bournemouth’s Artur Boruc to level the score at 1-1 in the 45th minute. Glenn Murray had put the Cherries ahead on 28 minutes and looked a threat all afternoon running between the defenders and using his aerial threat. Murray also had a chance to seal the match on 85 minutes as Etienne Capoue controversially fouled Adam Smith. But Gomes saved Murray’s penalty and followed up with another fingertip save to ensure Watford took a point back to Hertfordshire.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were the first top-four visitors to Vicarage Road on October 17th and came away with what may appear an easy 3-0 victory. But for 60 minutes Watford held the North London side and gave more than a positive account of themselves. Arsenal arrived following a 3-0 win against Manchester United and were soon to beat the seemingly formidable Bayern Munich three days later, yet they were unable to break down an organised Watford side that opened up the Arsenal defence on more than one occasion. It took a counter-attack and a brief lapse in concentration for Sanchez to open the scoring in the 62nd minute, and thus opened the floodgates for an Arsenal side that shows no mercy. 12 Minutes later and Watford found themselves three goals behind and the game was effectively over. Nevertheless Watford can take many positives from the game and if Deeney and Ighalo had only taken their chances then an upset would truly have been within the grasps of an ever-improving squad that can boast 13 new signings from the summer.

On the surface, it could be perceived that Watford have struggled in recent weeks and are struggling to take chances, however the reality is very different. Quique Sanchez Flores has built a team from the back. Stability is something that can’t be bought and if there is anyone who knows what it means to create a side from the bottom up then it is the former Valencia and Atletico Madrid manager. With the likes of Nyom, Prodl, Abdi and Capoue, the foundations are there for a top-half team in the Premier League. So with a bit of belief, a touch of trust, and a sprinkle of fortune, Watford FC fans will have a team that can replicate the performance of the fans in the stands on the pitch.

In the coming weeks Watford face Stoke away, West Ham at home, and Leicester City away before Manchester United and Ashley Young make a long awaited return to Hertfordshire, again in front of the television cameras. Each game will be hotly contested and Flores will be looking to take at least four points from the next four games. But this will require the maintenance of a strong structure and formation that is well-drilled and understands how to play each opposition as they come. Yet the Premier League is anything other than predictable, and there is only one thing for certain in this ever-changing league; Flores’ Watford side will be ready and they will be going out in every game to make the club and its supporters proud.

It is an exciting time to be a Watford fan.