With five matches remaining for the Hornets – and a nine-point gap separating them from third place – automatic promotion back to the Premier League is more than just a wishful possibility. Watford are in the driver’s seat for the second automatic-promotion spot by a considerable margin. But, the die is far from cast.
There are thousands of combinations for how the season could play out. Supporters will be running all of these different outcomes through their heads until the end of the season or until promotion is clinched. Below is a list of each clubs’ fixtures, a discussion of the key matches, and shortcuts on how to determine the “magic number.”
Watford: Luton Town (Away), Norwich City (Away), Millwall (Home), Brentford (Away), Swansea (Home)
Brentford: Millwall (Home), Cardiff City (Home), Bournemouth (Away), Rotherham (Home), Watford (Home), Bristol City (Away)
Swansea: Sheffield Wednesday (Away), Wycombe (Home), QPR (Home), Reading (Away), Derby County (Home), Watford (Away)
As this season has proved yet again, anything is possible. There is no such thing as a “free three points.” Nonetheless, there are some fixtures that appear more threatening than others.
Watford’s final run-in sees them come up against the rest of the top four, as well as a derby clash against Luton Town. Despite the difficult fixtures, Watford control their own fate with the points gap, and they are playing significantly better now than they were during the reverse fixtures.
Brentford’s final six matches, as they have one match in hand, have three fixtures that appear destined to end in Bees wins. Again, there are no “free victories,” but Rotherham, Millwall, and Bristol City are all fixtures Brentford are clear favorites to win. Cardiff City and Bournemouth, however, are not teams that will easily combine to yield six points to Brentford.
Swansea, like Brentford, have a slightly more favorable run-in than Watford. Still, an away fixture at Sheffield Wednesday is no walk in the park, while QPR have had a notoriously strong second half of the season. An away fixture to Reading is a daunting task for the Swans as well.
What must be noted is that with Brentford and Swansea both having one match in hand on Watford, they will have extra fixture congestion. The Hornets only have one more midweek match left, whereas both the Bees and Swans have two. Fine margins, such as fatigue and fixture congestion, could play a huge role in the final month of the campaign.
And, inevitably, the main fixtures that must be mentioned are Watford’s final two matches. If Watford are seven points clear of third-place heading into those matches, promotion will already be clinched. This, of course, is what Watford fans hope for. But if promotion is not clinched by then, both Brentford and Swansea will have key chances to gain serious ground on, and potentially even leapfrog, Watford.
The Magic Number
Watford are currently nine points clear of third-placed Brentford and ten points clear of fourth-placed Swansea. If both win their matches in hand, the Hornets will effectively be six and seven points clear respectively on equal games played (although Brentford’s extra midweek fixture is not until after Watford’s clash against Millwall).
The current “magic number” for promotion is 10. If Watford pick up 10 more points in the last five matches, an immediate return to the Premier League is mathematically confirmed. The 10-point magic number is under the assumption Brentford win all of their remaining matches. Their maximum points tally for this season is 91, while Watford currently sit on 82. If Brentford catch up to Watford, the Bees’ goal differential will likely be considerably better than the Hornets’. Winning every match for the rest of the season is beyond a steep task for Brentford – not impossible, but highly improbable.
Here is the list of equations for calculating the “magic number” for the rest of the season:
Watford victory: subtract three from the magic number.
Watford draw: subtract one from the magic number.
Watford loss: the magic number stays the same.
Brentford loss/draw and Swansea win: subtract one from the magic number (only applicable until Swansea go ahead of Brentford).
Brentford draw and Swansea draw/loss: subtract two from the magic number.
Brentford loss and Swansea draw/loss: subtract three from the magic number.
If Swansea go ahead of Brentford, repeat the same process but replace the two teams in the formulas above.
If they are level on points, a draw for both is subtract two and a loss for both is subtract three.
A victory for both teams or the team closest to Watford: the magic number stays the same.
And to be clear, if Watford win and Brentford win, the magic number still decreases by three, for example.
So, if Watford theoretically win and both other teams lose in a given match-week, six points can be slashed off the magic number on a given day. The earliest Watford could clinch promotion is against Norwich, if Brentford drop four points from their next two matches, if Swansea drop three points in their next three matches (as their extra midweek fixture is on April 13th), and if Watford win against both Luton Town and the Canaries.
Odds indicate Watford will eventually get their moment of joy at promotion. That moment will likely not be in the next couple of matches, but it is still a possibility. But, what has to be remembered is that nothing is ever set in stone until the math says so. The push for the automatic-promotion places is far from over. Watford are in pole position by a decent margin, but serious veering from the track still cannot be afforded.