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Watford players finding it hard to focus amid FA Cup semi-final talk

Watford’s head coach says it is difficult to escape the buzz and hype of the FA Cup semi-final as he tries to keep the focus on the next three league games before Watford’s big day out at Wembley.

The Hornets’ last two wins have both come in the FA Cup and they have harvested just a single point in the five Premier League games between the fifth-round win over Leeds United and the stunning FA Cup quarter-final win over Arsenal.

“It’s like we’re fighting against a phantom,” Sanchez Flores said. “It’s not like I can speak to the players and say: ‘Don’t do this, it’s why you’re making mistakes’. It is something that’s in the air. I can’t change it. It’s of course in the players’ thoughts, it’s all around us. It’s in the dressing room and in the atmosphere of the club. It’s impossible to stop. You walk through the office and people are talking about tickets for the FA Cup and the schedule for the FA Cup. I think: ‘What’s happening?’ We have a league match tomorrow’. That’s why it’s hard.”

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Gavin Mahon is one of only six Watford players to have played in two FA Cup semi-finals for the club (Wilf Rostron, Tommy Smith, Lee Sinnott, John Barnes and David Bardsley are the others). Watford won one of three games between the quarter-final and semi-final in 2003 and two of six in 2007.

“I think sometimes the cup games can be a good distraction and our form wasn’t great at the time,” the former Watford captain told WD Sport. “The fans didn’t have much to cheer about but in certain games we played well even though we conceded late to Chelsea [at Vicarage Road two weeks before the semi in 2007]. We played well in a lot of games at home that season but we just didn’t get our rewards. But for the fans to have a day out, which I can empathise with because I am also a football fan, whenever my team gets to a semi-final or final I’m there. It’s great to have that to give back to the supporters – it’s just a shame we couldn’t go any further.”

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Watford finished 13th in the old Division One when they got to the last four in 2003, and rock bottom of the Premier League after their run to the semi in 2007.

“Someone said to me at the start of the season: ‘Do you think they will stay up?’ And I said: ‘Yeah 100 per cent’, because Watford have an identity about how they want to play, like Bournemouth, that is suited to the Premier League. When they went on their cup run I wasn’t surprised due to the quality players they have got. They’ve still got the original backbone of the team in Ben Watson and Troy, who I know really well and who’s a good leader, so you can see why they thought they had a chance. They play expansive football, score goals and they’re solid defensively. But it’s a great achievement and they’ve got an identity different to how it was during my time at the club. We were quite a direct, aggressive and very fit team whereas these boys have everything, especially with the goals they have scored.”

•Reporting by Adam Newson and Charlie Doris. With thanks to Jon Sinclair