What?! What do you mean Watford won a game comfortably, with a clear and effective strategy that didn’t end with fans calling for heads to roll? No. You’re crazy. Did you forget to drink your prune juice, grandpa? Go back to bed.
My friends… that actually happened. Following an ugly performance away to QPR, Chris Wilder reportedly told the squad “I will talk. You listen”. Whatever was said in the dressing room between the two games, the players clearly took it to heart. In the opening minutes, a familiar unease fell over Vicarage Road as Watford attempted their slow buildup from the back. Fans have watched the same scenario play out far too often this season. Typically, the passing would be disjointed, and a turnover would force the defense to scramble back. Even when the ball fell to Keinan Davis in the attacking third, I wondered how the opportunity would be squandered. Watching the ball go wide to Ken Sema, crossed in toward Imran Louza and into the back of the net felt like a dream. It had been so long since the team had felt cohesive, so to see that was a complete surprise. The second goal felt even more so. Keinan Davis has faced much scrutiny for his lack of goal-scoring this season, and fans could practically feel that monkey on his back with him. He was able to put a shot over the goalkeeper’s head from a tight angle at the edge of the box, and it was like the weight of the world lifting off all our shoulders.
Somehow, at this point, we were only 16 minutes into the game. The clock graphic for Hive Live was down, so I barely knew what to do with myself. Surely, if Watford have managed two goals, we must be in the games dying moments. In fact, the Hornets would show more urgency. Birmingham had been on a poor run of form themselves and behaved like a wounded animal expecting death. It was frankly surprising that the scoreline was only 2-0 at halftime.
Familiar fears started to creep back into the minds of Waford fans in the 20 minutes following halftime. Birmingham made two immediate changes, including top scorer Scott Hogan. The Blues had clearly received a tongue-lashing in the dressing room, and emerged with the intent to make a game of it. Within two minutes of the second half starting, Hogan snuck between the Ryan Porteous and Craig Cathcart, but completely fluffed his lines in front of a lonely Dan Bachmann. In the 53rd minute, Auston Trusty did the same, volleying what should have been an easy tap-in over the bar. It would have been the most typical Watford occurrence for the team to fold after building a convincing lead. As I’ve said before Hornets fans have learned that we cannot relax until the final whistle.
In the 66th minute, Davis was substituted for the equally maligned Britt Assombalonga. This is a player who had never scored a goal for the club, despite being a striker in his second tenure here. However, after just eight minutes on the pitch, he received a cross from Ismael Kone, and his initial shot pinballed off the keeper, off his chest and into the goal. 4014 days after his club debut, Assombalonga finally opened his Watford account. In his live call, Jon Marks said Watford had “put the game to bed”. The moment I heard that, I was mentally telling him to shut up. We have seen far too many performances go haywire to think that any lead is safe. Thankfully, the final whistle blew, and Watford fans could enjoy a well-deserved three points.
So many individual players deserve plaudits for their performances, but our focus should be on how the team finally gelled as a unit. We know that we have talented players up and down the squad. Now, we’ve gotten the first cohesive performance out of them for a long time. However, we’ve seen isolated amazing performances before, even earlier in this season. The key now is to continue the momentum down the stretch of the season. Promotion is well within reach, and this team just needs to keep putting the pieces together. As I’ve said repeatedly, the answer is in the room and it’s up to them to uncover it.