The Local Lowdown: Watford


We asked opposition expert Andrew French from the Watford Observer to preview Watford’s visit to St Mary’s from the Hornets’ point of view...

With four games to go and Watford sitting in mid-table, how would you sum up the season?

On the whole, I think it’s been more or less what was expected: very mid-table. We flirted with the relegation zone early on, then we got very close to the play-off places. But our performances overall have been inconsistent, and before a ball was kicked I was predicting we’d finish somewhere between 12th and 15th, and that looks likely.

Valérien Ismaël lost his job last month. What was the general feeling around his departure, and why didn’t it work for him?

Ismaël did a very good job of changing the squad mindset and instilling a better attitude, and towards the end of last year he looked like he might exceed expectations as we were knocking on the door of the top six. But then it all went wrong. We still haven’t won at home since November 28th, we stopped scoring goals and we became ultra-cautious to the point of negativity.

I think he made a mistake not bringing more than one player in during the January window, and his safety-first approach to games meant we spent too much time on the back foot. Despite Watford’s well-deserved reputation for being quick to sack head coaches, the club gave Ismaël more time than most but, by when he was let go, the fans were generally in agreement with the decision.

Tom Cleverley has stepped in as interim head coach. Watford are five games unbeaten, holding Leeds, West Brom and Ipswich along the way. How have recent performances been?

It’s been chalk and cheese to what went before. Very much on the front foot, not excessive amounts of tiki-taka in defence and the desire to win games rather than trying not to lose them is back. We could have beaten Leeds, we should have beaten West Brom, and Preston lured us into a trap of continually running into their low block. Nonetheless, no defeats in four is a decent start and fans have certainly enjoyed the more attacking nature of Tom’s approach, as well as the switch from 4-3-3 to 3-4-1-2.

Is Cleverley a viable contender to be the manager full time, and is that his intention?

He said from the start he’d like the job full time, but with the caveat that for the time being he’s just focused on winning as many of the nine games that he had. So far, this prolonged interview is going well, although he could do with a home win as it’s 11 league games at Vicarage Road without one. He knows the club inside out, he played with a lot of the players, he’s got tremendous experience as a player and if he got the job there would be continuity, which is something the club has lacked.

Former Saint Wesley Hoedt squares up to Ché Adams in February's Emirates FA Cup fourth round replay at St Mary's, which Saints won 3-0

Who have been the standout performers this season?

The captain, Wesley Hoedt, has had a very good season. Strong leader on the pitch, reads the game well and has an exceptional range of passing with his left foot. Some of the younger players have come to the fore: Ryan Andrews was only just making his league debut a year ago but now he’s a regular with his pace and strength on the right flank, which has earned him an England Under-20 call-up.

Yáser Asprilla has been one of the bright spots as he has such flair and natural talent, and on his day, Ismaël Koné looks a class above Championship level. The fear for Watford fans is how many of that last trio will be at the club come the start of next season.

How do you see the game going on Saturday?

Hopefully better than the FA Cup replay, when Watford appeared to simply be fulfilling a fixture and Saints ran all over them. Cleverley has reignited the squad, got the attitude back on track and, because he is looking to prove his credentials, he’s ensuring the season doesn’t just peter out. I could see us grabbing a point.

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