Quique Sanchez Flores said this week he was “excited more than nervous” when the season kicked off amid a blaze of sunshine at Goodison Park in August. He’d be forgiven for feeling more nervous than excited in the reverse fixture this afternoon.
His Watford side are on the kind of run a coach dreads – one home league win in eight, only two league wins in 14 and seven blanks in the last 11 – and, worse still, those results have come amid some pretty uninspiring football.
Sanchez Flores has more than enough credit in the bank, particularly thanks to a run to the semi-final of the FA Cup, to insulate himself from questions about his immediate future but a depressingly familiar narrow defeat and another blank today would not go down well.
“We must recover our ambition and passion,” Sanchez Flores said. “The players deserve to finish the Premier League strongly because we achieved a level of excellence and competed well against every team in the first half of the season.If the players don’t have the right focus and are not responding in the way I like, it is only right that I assume responsibility. I must support the players.”
Sanchez Flores is kind of fortunate that most of the media attention will be on Roberto Martinez, whose side are only one point above the Hornets despite being more expensively assembled and boasting superior quality at the attacking end of the field.
It’s all a far cry from the opening day of the season when Sanchez Flores and Martinez met for the first time, in the technical area at Goodison Park.
“It was an amazing conversation,” said Sanchez Flores. “He advised me a lot about the Premier League, the conduct of the players, English players and how to manage here. He is a very good man and a very good manager. He is a good example for Spanish coaches. In Spain we look at Roberto like an English citizen. He was made here as a player and a coach. He thinks more like an Englishman than a Spaniard but he doesn’t forget where he has come from.”
It would be fitting for Watford to reach 40 points in the Premier League by recording victory against the side they gained their first. It was back on that sun-drenched August afternoon that the Hornets make a step into the unknown. How would this Watford side, made up of several new players and with a recently appointed head coach, perform in the top flight? The 90 minutes that followed demonstrated the Hornets were more than capable of handling themselves among England’s elite. They recorded a 2-2 draw but were unfortunate not to claim victory.
“I remember that day I was excited more than being nervous,” Sanchez Flores said. “It was an amazing match at a great stadium. I remember Everton looked a really strong team and there was a lot of expectations on them to win the match. But we showed ambition and personality and did really well. It was the start of everything for us, our presentation to the rest of the Premier League.”
Since securing that first point Watford have gone on to add 36 more. They are, barring an extraordinary set of results, safe. It is an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated and yet, there is disappointment. The Hornets hit 37 points by the end of February. They were in the top half and there were even murmurings that the side could sneak into a European spot.
Four consecutive defeats have quelled that talk. The focus now is on Watford recapturing the intensity in their play and the desire they demonstrated on the opening day.