Four managers in a year hasn’t hindered Hornets
25 April ~ Two sets of fans with wildly contrasting mindsets will arrive at the Amex this Saturday lunchtime. A long sold-out 3,180 Watford supporters will descend on Falmer in the knowledge that if things go well they could be four points clear at the top and disappearing from view, before anyone else even kicks off. For their Albion counterparts it will be a mixture of relief, coupled with bewilderment it took until mid-April before safety was confirmed and then only thanks to Millwall's midweek defeat at Blackburn.
After successive top-six finishes expectation was high that Sami Hyypia would push on and bring Premier League football to a stadium constructed with just that in mind. Instead by December he had gone, along with director of football operations David Burke.
The respected Chris Hughton was a safe replacement who has, as intended, steadied the ship but the gradual slide to a series of drab displays, coupled with a lack of goalscoring threat, remains a concern to fans. Centre-back Lewis Dunk is Brighton's top scorer with a measly six goals while, in stark contrast to Saturday's goal-laden visitors, no striker has scored more than four times. A summer of frenzied transfer activity surely lies ahead for the Seagulls.
For Watford the situation could hardly be more different. Aspirations have risen progressively over the course of the season, to such a degree that the original play-off target would now represent a considerable disappointment. Recent away form has been sensational with no defeat since January and two or more goals scored in eight consecutive away games.
Scary-looking Serbian head coach Slavisa Jokanovic, the former Chelsea defensive midfielder and Watford's fourth boss of the season, may give largely unintelligible post-match assessments, but it's simply impossible to argue with his influence or achievements. Joining the club in October, he moved swiftly to remove non-supportive elements from his dressing room and, under the inspirational on-field leadership of Troy Deeney, has created a togetherness not seen at Vicarage Road for many years.
Unlike their hosts, Watford possess a range of goalscoring options, to such a degree that one of Deeney (20 league goals), Matej Vydra (14) or Odion Ighalo (20) probably won’t start. But Jokanovic isn’t afraid to make mid-game tactical shifts, meaning that whoever misses out will probably appear at some stage. Behind them will see the final Watford appearance of Adlène Guedioura, borrowed from Crystal Palace and possibly the most influential Hornets loanee since Tommy Mooney turned up 20 years ago.
For Albion fans it’s all about planning for next season. For Watford though now is the hour. Hard work remains to be done but a return to the Premier League is within touching distance. David Harrison