Watford v West Bromwich Albion; Vicarage Road, Monday 20th February 2023, 8pm
Carlos Corberán’s extended honeymoon period at the Hawthorns has shown signs of cooling off in recent weeks with many fans expressing doubts that the Baggies can maintain their play-off push. Having picked up 27 points from his first eleven games in charge, Albion stormed into the top six, but four points from the last four has seen them slump to tenth in the table some four points off the top six after the weekend’s fixtures albeit they have at least one game in hand over most of the sides above them.
That includes Monday’s opponents, Watford, who are two points and two places above the Baggies having played a game more, and are in the middle of the batch play-off chasing sides from Luton Town in fourth to Coventry City in eleventh that are separated by just five points. Having conceded a late equaliser against another of those sides, Blackburn Rovers, on Wednesday evening, Albion know that victory at Vicarage Road would see them replace Watford in eighth place to leave them one point behind Rovers in seventh.
Watford started the season under the stewardship of Rob Edwards whose appointment at the Hertfordshire club appeared to signal a change in approach from the ownership in choosing a young up-and-coming English coach as a long term project rather than a short-term appointment using their myriad of European contacts. If it was something new, they soon reverted to type as Edwards was dismissed after just eleven games in charge with the club in what they obviously considered to be a disappointing 10th place. Edwards was soon back in employment at rival club, Luton Town, and has guided them to fourth in the table, while former Baggies boss, Slaven Bilić, took over at Watford. Their record of nine wins and six draws from his 22 games is, ironically, the tenth best in the division in the period since he took charge.
Results have been mixed at best for the Croat, and given the Pozzo family’s well-known shaky trigger finger, there must be a concern that he will not make the end of the season. Ahead of Monday’s game, the Hornets are on a run of five games without a win although the last of those was a creditable draw at the home of the division’s stand-out side, Burnley. However, they have only won once at Vicarage Road, a 2-0 win over Blackpool in January, since early November, although they have also had only one home defeat in that period. To be fair to Bilić, he has been hampered by an extensive injury list with nine first team players definitely ruled out of Monday’s game and another two facing late fitness tests.
When the sides met at the Hawthorns in early August, Watford were lucky to escape with a point in a game that Steve Bruce’s team dominated but went behind to Ismaïla Sarr’s spectacular long range effort before Karlan Grant equalised. At the time, there were expectations that Sarr along with João Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis, their sought-after front three, would all be transferred to Premier League clubs following their relegation last summer, but only Dennis left and Sarr and Pedro have been the Hornets’ star players with seventeen goals between them so far this season.
Carlos Corberán blamed game management for his team’s failure to hold on to the lead they had against Blackburn last week. Debutant ‘keeper Josh Griffiths will feel disappointed not to have saved Brereton Díaz’s free kick, and I felt that it was a very soft award in the first place, but the Spaniard did have a point in that Albion could have managed that late Blackburn attack better. All in all, it was a good performance and it was extremely frustrating that the Baggies didn’t take all three points but had to settle for the first league draw of Corberán’s tenure.
He has already stated the Griffiths will retain his place in the starting line up for Monday evening, but there are few other decisions he needs to make. Firstly, there is a question mark over the fitness of Nathaniel Chalobah who made his full debut last Wednesday but limped off in the second half. Reports on Saturday suggested that he is back in training and should be fit to face the club he won promotion with in 2021. I thought he played really well against Blackburn, as did his replacement, Jayson Molumby, so even if both are fit it will be a difficult decision for Corberán.
The make-up of the front four is the other poser that the Spaniard has to consider. After an impressive debut, Marc Albrighton has failed to impress too much in his next two appearances while Grady Diangana has looked bright off the bench on both occasions. However, the former West Ham winger has looked better off the bench than when starting ore often than not, so it is not an easy choice.
I did feel that the inclusion of both John Swift and Brandon Thomas-Asante improved the overall threat of the team in forward areas, albeit when comparing against the flat performance at Blues, it would have been difficult not to see an improvement! Dike should, in theory, offer more of an aerial threat than BTA, but we have only really seen that once, when he scored against Sunderland in December. I don’t think that we should give up on the American just yet, he is only 22 after all, but his slightly older teammate is currently offering more and should probably be used from the start in this crucial phase of the season.
Having lost their last three away games in all competitions, a win for Albion would be their first on their road since they came back from 2-0 down to claim all three points at the home of Watford’s arch rivals, Luton Town, in mid-January. Watford’s form and injury problems should given them hope, but I’m expecting another tight game.
Monday evening’s match will be the first meeting between the sides at Vicarage Road in the second tier since April 2010 when Roberto di Matteo’s Baggies visited south Hertfordshire looking for points to secure a return to the Premier League, while Malky Mackay’s Hornets were equally desperate for points to avoid leaving the division by the trap door.
It was a tight encounter that sparked to life in the closing stages. Firstly, former Chelsea defender, Jon Harley, received a second yellow card with eleven minutes left to leave the hosts with only ten men. Undeterred, Watford grabbed what they thought was the winner with five minutes of normal time left when Danny Graham scored with a long-range effort. The visitors responded, however, when, deep into stoppage time, Chris Brunt headed home a looping header from Andwele Slory (remember him?) to claim a point. Albion would secure promotion with a 3-2 win at Doncaster Rovers the following weekend while the Hornets won three of their last five games to safely avoid the drop.
It would be another five years before the clubs met again, this time in the Premier League after Watford were promoted under Slaviša Jokanović (amongst others) in 2015, although it was Quique Flores that took the reins for their first Premier League season in eight years. Watford won two of the three of the Premier League meetings between the sides in Hertfordshire, and the Baggies’ last win at Vicarage Road was in another promotion season 2007/08.
Adie Boothroyd was in charge at Watford and he had guided them to ten wins from thirteen games at the start of the season putting them six points clear at the top of the Championship table. Tony Mowbray’s team were in third spot, some nine points behind the Hornets, but taught Boothroyd’s boys a footballing lesson that day. Goals from Ishmael Miller and Kevin Phillips gave the visitors a 2-0 half time lead and any thoughts of a comeback were dashed when Martin Albrechtsen added a third just after the break.
That 3-0 win remains Albion’s best at Watford and all but one of the Baggies’ seven wins at Vicarage Road have come in the second tier. The outlier was way back in May 1985 when John Giles was in his second spell in charge at the Hawthorns, Graham Taylor in his first at Watford. Goals from Garry Thompson and Gary Owen earned the visitors a 2-0 victory in their final away game of the season in which they finished in a comfortable 11th place with little sign of the disastrous campaign that was to follow.
Just three games into that campaign, Albion were back at Vicarage Road in August 1985 and on the end of a 5-1 thumping thanks to a hat trick from future Baggie, Colin West, and further goals from Steve Terry and another future Baggie, Brian Talbot. Imre Varadi scored Albion’s consolation as they dropped to the bottom of the fledgling Division One table where they would stay for the remainder of the season.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
8 Aug 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Grant)
Watford 1 (Sarr)
Last meeting at Watford
3 Mar 2018 – Premier League
Watford 1 (Deeney)
West Bromwich Albion 0
3 Dec 2016 – Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Evans, Brunt, Phillips)
Watford 1 (Kabasele)
Last win at Watford
3 Nov 2007 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Miller, Phillips, Albrechtsen)
Albion’s Record against Watford
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