This weekend we visit Watford, who sit 13th in the Premier League and are one of the five clubs separated by just two points in the middle of the table. Stoke are 9th on 32 points, followed by ourselves with the same points but an inferior goal difference, and then three teams on 30, Southampton, Burnley and Watford. As the games begin to run out, and with a gap of five points to West Brom in 8th, then you have to believe that the five clubs are fighting it out to finish 9th. It would take a very good run put together, plus some faltering by the Baggies, to envisage any of them realistically challenging for eighth place. Not impossible, but unlikely I reckon.
This is the return fixture of our fourth game of the season, and second at home, where we raced into a two goal lead, which included an outrageous piece of skill from an ex-favourite Frenchman, only to be pegged back by half-time, and comprehensively beaten 4-2 by the finish, mainly as a result of some diabolical defending. From the point that we went two up our defence faced a situation fraught with difficulties in containing the rampant Watford attack; a real hornets’ nest! The Watford captain, Deeney, said in a post-match interview that he felt that the West Ham players were showboating, and this spurred on them on in their comeback. In truth we could have lost by an even greater margin.
Watford are one of the many Premier League clubs under foreign ownership, with the owner and chairman both Italian, leading to (unsurprisingly) an Italian manager, Walter Mazzarri. Mazzarri was a journeyman Italian footballer, playing for eleven clubs in a fifteen year period in the 1980s and 90s, and then in his managerial career managed seven Italian teams from 2001 to 2014, including some notable clubs such as Sampdoria, Inter and Napoli. His appointment at Watford last summer was his first foray in football outside his native country, and he appears to have done an OK job leading them to a mid-table position, with no real danger of relegation (unless they collapse dramatically), and like ourselves, not much chance of progressing beyond finishing in ninth place.
Watford’s home form is nothing special. Apart from losing at home to Gillingham in the EFL Cup, they have won five of their twelve games, beating (most notably) Manchester United and Everton, as well as more predictable victories over Hull, Leicester and Burnley. They have had three home draws, all against teams below them in the table, namely, Bournemouth, Palace and Middlesbrough. Their four defeats at home have all come against teams above them in the table, Chelsea, Arsenal, Stoke and Tottenham. I wonder if we can make it five? In addition to their win at the London Stadium, they have won two further games away from Vicarage Road, at Middlesbrough, and a surprising win at the Emirates.
Their main danger men from a scoring perspective are Deeney, who is their leading scorer with seven, and Capoue who has netted five times in the league. Their goals scored and conceded records are very similar to our own, so in many ways the form points to a potential score draw. The game is yet another of our mid-table six pointers in the “race” to finish ninth, and one that we should be looking to win if we are to continue to hope for a top half finish.
Our head to head record against Watford has generally been a very positive one. In the 21 years from November 1985 until August 2006 we faced them 22 times, winning 18 and drawing 4. They didn’t beat us in a period of over 20 years. But in the 8 meetings since January 2007, we have won just two games, with one draw, and Watford coming out on top 5 times. So the recent record has not been a good one.
Despite Carroll’s continuing injury, I fully expect us to come out on top this time. I am hoping for some of the incisive movement that we displayed against West Brom two weeks ago, without the defensive lapses that cost us in that game. Perhaps we can reverse the score from the home fixture and win 4-2 this time? What are the chances?