The Luton Lesson – A Familiar Story

When Watford fell to a 1-0 defeat against Bournemouth on February 27th, the main talking points were about Jefferson Lerma and an otherwise poor Hornets’ performance. On Saturday, in Watford’s derby against their arch-rivals Luton Town, a similar fate occurred – with even fewer antics needed from the Hatters.

Watford Get Dominated In Derby

52% possession. 16 shots. More passes and better passing accuracy than the opposition. In a match between a mid-table side playing for nothing but pride and a second-placed team pushing for promotion, one would expect the latter to have the mentioned statistics. In the Beds-Herts derby, however, it was Luton Town with the mentioned numbers. The statistics signal a deserved Luton Town win, or more alarmingly, a justified Watford defeat. 

Ever since the most recent international break, the Hornets’ form has dropped. A 1-0 Watford victory against Sheffield Wednesday was arguably a harsh score-line for the Owls. The Hornets settled for a 1-1 draw against Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough. A 2-0 victory against Reading flattered Watford, as Reading missed many clear-cut chances. And, of course, the 1-0 defeat to Luton Town is the declining form catching up to Watford.

To be clear, none of this is to say Watford’s season is on the ropes. This is not an admission that Watford should not be favored for the second automatic-promotion spot. But, this is to point out the reminder that the job is far from finished, and that if form does not improve, then promotion to the Premier League is far from a guarantee. 

Against Luton Town, the Hatters were objectively better. Nathaniel Chalobah was out with injury, whereas Adam Masina ultimately missed out after initially being included on the team sheet. Even with Achraf Lazaar and Carlos Sanchez both getting their first Watford starts, the squad fielded was more than strong enough to beat Luton Town by a comfortable margin. Complacency, lack of accountability, sloppiness, laziness, and disjointed play characterized the Hornets’ performance. The main talking point is the first on the list.

Going into the fixture, most people expected Watford to win all three points, as has been the case in all matches recently. The winning intensity simply was not there. Creativity was absent. Frequent mispositioning and poor passing from most players made it impossible for the Hornets to gain control of the match. Even with Watford losing through a penalty conceded following an awful back-pass from Lazaar, the performance was worthy of zero points either way. To summarize, Watford’s complacency, amongst other factors, made them the architects of their own downfall.

A Similar Story

A sloppy, lackluster defeat such as this has been brewing for a while, has happened before, and needs to be learned from. Again. Of course, no team can expect to never lose. But, considering the time of the season and position of the opposition, a loss was unacceptable. The only thing making the loss not catastrophic for the Hornets is Brentford and Swansea both drew their home matches against sides circled as “must-beats.” Watford are still six points clear of Swansea and eight points clear of Brentford (who have one extra match to play). 

Still, the lesson that needs to be learned from the match is to only focus on the football. The Lerma Lesson was about the same idea. This time, external distractions were (surprisingly) less about antics and more about complacency, pressure, and the stigma of a derby. The psychological and tactical impact of being without Chalobah and Masina influenced the match too.

Regardless of the personnel, over the course of the past few matches, Watford have been losing their newfound identity under Xisco Munoz. The intricate play down the wings is no longer being seen. Controlling possession and allowing the attacking midfielders to set up more chances is starting to be overtaken by booting the ball forward, hoping for the best, and soaking up pressure – nearly Ivic-esque. 

With four tough matches left, promotion is far from secured. It is necessary that Watford return to their attacking identity and that individual performances do not have to bail out the rest of the squad. The draw against Middlesbrough should have been the wake-up call. The defeat at Kenilworth Road must set off a true reaction. Otherwise, the chances of promotion back to the Premier League will rapidly diminish.

Watford were in this exact situation following a heated, underwhelming defeat against Bournemouth. So, it has already been proven the Hornets have what it takes to bounce back promptly. Although this now seems to be said before every match, the upcoming clash against the Canaries is truly “season-defining.”

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