Norwich as good as gone, Watford in danger of being dragged down with them

Three defeats on the spin could see Pearson's side playing Championship football next season

Played 17, won none, drawn three, lost 14. If the debate a couple of months ago was if relegation should be cancelled, now some might say there is a case for demoting all of the bottom four, given their combined haul of three points from a possible 51 in summer. Admittedly, Brighton and West Ham, who raised the most objections to Project Restart, have eased their own concerns in the right way by procuring seven and four points respectively.

David Moyes’ team are not safe, but it looks like a case of three from four at the bottom. Two meet on Tuesday. Something has got to give as Norwich City visit Watford. Four defeats without scoring have all but finished Norwich off but each can see salvation in the other. “We've had five wins in 33 games and need five from the last five,” said Norwich manager Daniel Farke. Oddly, he claimed: “We’re still realistic.” His target is not.

Watford’s first league win of the season, and their only one in Quique Sanchez Flores’ second spell in charge, came at Norwich’s expense. Four months after their demolition of Liverpool, they could do with ending another wait – albeit a different kind – with a similar result.

The surprise, perhaps, is that Watford find themselves in this position. Beating Liverpool took them to 18 points, including five wins, in 12 games under Nigel Pearson. Their first game of the resumption brought a deserved draw against Leicester and featured arguably the best performance any of the bottom four have mustered in June or July. Yet three straight defeats have followed and if Watford did not disgrace themselves against Chelsea on Saturday, they were mediocre at Burnley and wretched against Southampton.

They have one goal in five games and it is not exactly a failsafe formula to rely on a centre-back to score an overhead kick in injury time, as Craig Dawson did against Leicester. Captain Troy Deeney has only mustered two shots on target in five outings since bullying Liverpool. A forceful personality can be an infrequent scorer and, apart from penalties, Deeney only has four goals this season. But one alternative, Andre Gray, has not featured since his lockdown-breaking birthday party. Another, Danny Welbeck, has not scored a league goal in his injury-hit Watford career, though he offered encouragement in his cameo at Stamford Bridge. “Danny has had a frustrating year in terms of opportunity and being available without injuries,” said Pearson. “It has been hard for him.”

Welbeck could be a compelling option for an impotent team who are missing the incision the mercurial Gerard Deulofeu could offer before he suffered a season-ending cruciate injury. The search for someone to play on the left has encompassed Roberto Pereyra, Tom Cleverley and Will Hughes without Pearson finding an ideal candidate. “Players bring different things to the team but more importantly the team comes first and that has to be our philosophy and the baseline for us,” Pearson reflected.

The manager is a cricket fan and described his side on Saturday as being “out of nick.” He likened them to a batsman who needs to play his way back into form, showing grit to survive until fluency returns. Fixtures against Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham seem to offer the chance before a potentially tougher ending versus Manchester City and then Arsenal.

“A big week in terms of opportunity,” said Pearson. It is for him, with his contract only running until the end of the season, and for a club whose revolving-door policies were predicated on a need to retain their top-flight status. Because Watford risk going from beating Liverpool this season to losing to Rotherham next year.

Published: July 7, 2020 07:55 AM


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