Watford played out a goalless draw ‘away’ to Coventry City on 6 February. Considering it was selected for the Sky Sports main event fixture on a Saturday afternoon, the game was dire.
The reaction to such an underwhelming performance was important. Questions were beginning to be asked of head coach Xisco Muñoz’s decision making, tactics and credibility. The answers have been vindicating.
If only the Watford faithful knew the capability of Watford’s attack in the following weeks.
Muñoz survived a sacking from the chairman Gino Pozzo, who has a reputation of being trigger-happy with such decisions, but promotion still looked a long way off. Sat in fifth place, picking up just two points from a possible nine in the last three fixtures, Muñoz agreed with Watford fans who had been calling for a much-needed change and worked on a new system in training, he told the Watford Observer at the time.
To the pleasant surprise of many Watford fans, a 4-3-3 was deployed, with both Troy Deeney and Andre Gray failing to make the starting eleven. Unfortunately, despite high expectation from the strike duo prior to the Championship season kicking off, both Gray and Deeney have failed to have the desired impact.
A week after the lifeless showing in Birmingham, Muñoz’s training sessions and system change paid dividends. The Golden Boys were straight out the blocks against Bristol City, scoring in the opening minutes. It didn’t take long to notice the difference in performance, and it was frankly impossible to ignore the result. Previously slow starters Watford were somehow 4-0 before half-time, which evidently made Gray and Deeney’s case for a starting spot significantly more indefensible.
After winning the game 6-0, courtesy of some free-flowing football which had previously been non-existent, Muñoz opted for the same system in subsequent fixtures against Preston North End and Derby County. Another six points were picked up.
But yesterday’s win to make it four wins in a row, with all three forwards bagging a goal, was the most significant.
In the newly employed 4-3-3, the midfield three complement each other excellently, with Will Hughes and Tom Cleverley, in particular, managing to support the attack with both with and without the ball. This can be seen from Ismaïla Sarr’s chance presented by Will Hughes minutes before the deadlock being broken by João Pedro, thanks to a lofted pass by Tom Cleverley.
Ismaïla Sarr got his goal from his third chance of the game ten minutes later, before Ken Sema restored Watford’s breathing space in the second half by shifting it onto his powerful left foot after a neat double step-over before drilling it into the bottom right-hand corner. The performance showed application and quality, despite the pitch being heavily cut up.
Although a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes at the back gave Blackburn a half-chance to get back into the game, Watford’s pressing, chance creation and ruthlessness in front of goal were extremely encouraging.
If Watford continue to maintain this level of performance, they will push Brentford, Norwich and Swansea right until the very end of the season for automatic promotion.