It was somewhat a common consensus that Watford would struggle in the 2018/19 season, however, the Hornets have defied expectations during the first half of the campaign. Sitting 10th in the table at the mid-way point, Javi Gracia’s side will now be hoping to round off the calendar year on a further positive note against Newcastle United.
Last time out, Watford had won two on the bounce against Cardiff City and West Ham United but could not extend their streak against Chelsea on Boxing Day — the Blues secured a 2-1 victory thanks to a brace from Eden Hazard.
The Hornets showed valiance despite an obvious ability deficit against Maurizio Sarri’s men, however, it was quality that proved to be the decisive factor in separating the two sides. Watford have now lost three out of their last four encounters at Vicarage Road, however, three of those four have also come against teams in the top six.
Meanwhile, Newcastle were unfortunate enough to face a trip to Premier League pace-setters, Liverpool. The Reds ran out 4-0 victors, with Rafa Benitez and his players powerless to resist against such strong opposition.
The Magpies have mustered more points on the road (10) than at their home venue, St James’ Park (7), and a tally of 14 goals ranks second-lowest in the league with fellow relegation candidates Huddersfield Town notching just 12.
Newcastle ended both a 10-game winless run in the league and a five-game sequence of losses against Watford, by defeating them 1-0 on Tyneside in November, a victory which sparked a notable revival for the north eastern outfit who went on to win three consecutive games.
The Hornets did the double over the Magpies last season: winning 3-0 at St James’ Park and 2-1 in the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road on the penultimate weekend of the campaign.
The last time Newcastle won away at Watford was a 2-1 win in the Championship in February 2010 — former captain Fabricio Coloccini and current West Ham striker Andy Carrol scored the goals for the visitors that afternoon.
Despite defeat last time out, Watford head coach Gracia remains buoyant about the team’s prospects and maintains that his players are exerting themselves for results as much as possible even throughout a hectic festive schedule in England’s top flight.
“I think we are in a good moment,” he said. “I have good feelings.
“We can win, we can lose — but when I see my players, they always give their best and are competing in all the games we’ve played. I’m happy with their behaviour and I’m sure we’ll keep it up in the future as well.”
In the other dugout, Benitez recognises that Newcastle still find themselves in the midst of a gruelling relegation battle and will not set his sights on anything more ambitious than survival until the task is complete.
“The target is to stay up and after that see where we can go, like last year. We are in the bottom half of the table. We can get points to go higher by the main thing is to stay up.
“The target in January will be to be out of the bottom three.”
Watford will be unable to call upon central defender Christian Kabasele — the Belgian was sent to hospital after colliding with a post against Chelsea and looks to have picked up a minor back injury.
Sebastian Prödl, Will Hughes, Andre Gray and Adalberto Peñaranda are all expected to continue their spells on the sidelines.
Newcastle striker Salomón Rondón was rested for the defeat at Anfield but is set to come back into the fold for the trip to Hertfordshire.
Jonjo Shelvey returns to action following a thigh problem, though Ciaran Clark and goalkeeper Karl Darlow remain absent. South Korea international Ki Sung-Yeung is currently representing his nation in the AFC Asian Cup.
Watford - Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Sema, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu; Deeney.
Newcastle United - Dubravka; Yedlin, Schär, Lascelles, Dummett; Ritchie, Shelvey, Diamé, Kenedy; Pérez; Rondón.