Ben Watson and the Liverpool fans have something in common: Raheem Sterling will not feature on their Christmas card list.
The Reds who will pack the away end at Vicarage Road tomorrow will probably never forgive Sterling for the way he handled his big-money move to Manchester City. The reception he will receive on his return to Anfield in March will be lively to say the least.
Watson has less of a cross to bear but he does have a scar to show from an operation on his right leg following a challenge with Sterling in a game between Liverpool and Wigan Athletic in November 2012. Tomorrow’s game will be his first meeting with the Reds since.
“I broke my leg against them at Anfield,” said Watson. “I was in a collision with Raheem Sterling. It all ended OK because that was the season I came back from injury and Wigan won the FA Cup.”
Watson was caught just above the shin by Sterling’s knee as they jumped for a ball in the first half of the game at Anfield. It was widely accepted there was no malice.
“I didn’t realise it was serious as that,” Sterling wrote on Twitter at the time. “I’ll be praying for a speedy recovery mate. I’ll have you in my prayers every day.”
Not many gave Watford a prayer at the start of the season, yet they are sitting pretty in seventh. Watson looked like he would struggle to get a sniff of action. He’s played 11 successive games and will make it 12 tomorrow.
“We were favourites to go down in a lot of people’s eyes,” said Watson. “We’re not safe yet, but we have that great platform. We’re in a good place at the minute, playing well and picking up results. The one thing we can’t do is get ahead of ourselves and take our foot off the gas because we haven’t achieved anything yet. We’re only 16 games in but we’ve given ourselves a great platform. Now we’ve got to build on that.”
Watford were sixth in the Championship after winning at Reading in their last game before Christmas last year, so their rise to seventh in the Premier League is equally as remarkable as Leicester City’s jump from the foot of the table to the summit.
“If it hadn’t been for Leicester, we would have been the surprise team of the season in the Premier League,” said Watson. “It was the same last season with Bournemouth. We were promoted but even towards the end of the season there was very little mentioned about us, which was great because we just went about our business, winning games and slowly but surely crept into the automatic positions. That was great because when nobody’s talking about us and other teams are being talked about we can get on with our work and enjoy the games. When you’re being talked about, maybe a bit of added pressure comes into it. But we’re going along nicely.”
In fact they are going along so well that many experts make them favourites for the game with Liverpool.
“Liverpool have world-class players all over the pitch and after the Newcastle result they will possibly be on their toes,” said Watson. “But they will come here to try and win the game and we’ll be doing the same. They will be extremely hard-working and they will ask us questions. We must stand tall and answer them. Benteke cost them £30million, they have Lallana, and Sturridge – when he’s fit is a world-class striker. Then they have players coming back from injury like Henderson who scored last week. Milner has been a great signing for them. He’s an excellent football player. You don’t get to play that many games at the top clubs and for England if you’re an ordinary player. He probably doesn’t get as much praise as he deserves. He seems to go under the radar but covers every blade of grass. But he’not just a runner – he’s an excellent football player. He’s proved that over the years and again on Sunday he’ll be everywhere.”
Milner has actually been ruled out, giving the home crowd even more reason for optimism.