You will not find a single person at the training ground who will begrudge Ben Watson being retrospectively awarded the goal against Manchester City this morning.
The deep-lying midfielder has been one of the unsung heroes of the season and is playing so well that Valon Behrami, who has more than 60 international caps, cannot get his place back. Watson’s attitude is in contrast to Behrami’s right now and Quique Sanchez Flores, being the artful man manager he is, will no doubt congratulate him on officially becoming Watford’s sixth different Premier League scorer this season. There was a time, when Etienne Capoue and Behrami were dovetailing so well, that it looked doubtful if Watson would get a Premier League start this season let alone a goal.
“I had a conversation with Watson in the first three or four weeks of the season,” said Sanchez Flores on Thursday. “He was training amazing but Behrami and Capoue were our midfield players. I say to Watson, ‘Ben, I don’t know when you are going to play, when exactly is the day, but I am really, really happy with you. He said, ‘No problem, I am ready when you want’.”
That must have been music to the ears of Sanchez Flores, the nephew of a famous Flamenco singer-dancer.
“This is perfect,” he said. “I am completely safe and happy with the performance of this player. This is the kind of player we need.”
Watson’s form is why Watford are not falling over themselves to sign another holding midfielder this month. Yes, they would like Mario Suarez or Abdoulaye Doucouré (who wouldn’t ?) but both would arrive in no doubt that Watson is the first choice to partner Capoue. The way Watson, along with existing members of the squad like Odion Ighalo, Craig Cathcart and Almen Abdi, have taken to the Premier League like a duck to water has been a welcome surprise to those who influence the club’s recruitment strategy.
“Not exactly,” said Sanchez Flores when asked if the form of Watson, since he came in for the suspended Behrami at Bournemouth, has taken him aback. “I know he didn’t exactly play like a pivot last year. He played in a three in the midfield, sometimes on the left, sometimes in other positions. He understands the tactical way, he understand everything. He’s able to manage his position and the position os his teammates.”
The biggest sign of how Watson has bought in fully into what Sanchez Flores wants is the way he slots in between in his full-back and the centre-half when the opposition get in deep wide positions. He’s also, after several players kept failing to beat the first man, Watford’s regular corner taker. And it was from a set-piece that he found the back of the net, via a deflection off Aleksandar Kolarov, for his first Premier League goal since he got the winner for Wigan Athletic against Tottenham Hotspur in November 2012.
“I want one that goes straight in,” Watson said after the City game. “I wouldn’t mind [being awarded the goal], though.” He got the second part of his wish, anyway.