Foster admits Brighton "wanted it more" than Watford
Photo by Getty Images/Warren Little

It's the hope that kills you. Reinvigorated by exciting new signings and buoyed by the fruits of last season, Watford aimed to kick off 2019/20 in style with the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion.

But the anticlimax struck to full effect as the Seagulls strolled to an emphatic 3-0 win. An own-goal from Abdoulaye Doucouré in the first half dampened what had been a boisterous and eager atmosphere at Vicarage Road, and goals from Florin Andone and Neal Maupay after the break completed the rout.

The man tasked with keeping goal for the Hornets, Ben Foster, was largely helpless all afternoon — the shortcomings of the performance were spread all over the pitch in a disjointed, far from delectable, and frankly dismal collective display. But the 36-year old served as the spokesperson to convey the squad's disappointment at the defeat.

"It's a bit of a crash down to reality," he said. "I think we thought we just had to turn up today, but the Premier League isn't like that anymore. You look at people who've spent this year, tactics changing — it's a lot tougher than it's ever been.

"We need to look at ourselves, we need to get back to doing the basics that we did well all of last season and put those into practice because if we carry on the way we did today, it'll be a long old season."

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Nullified by a new entity

While Watford were poor, their opponents were impressive to such a degree that an improved showing from the Hornets may not even have altered the result. It was certainly a dream start to life in the Premier League for Graham Potter.

Brighton underwent a significant transition period in the summer, as Potter took the helm from a man that had served the club for five years in Chris Hughton. They also made five signings worth a combined outlay of £60m, but none of them started at Vicarage Road. The reason the Seagulls enjoyed such a prolific afternoon was that new life, new ideas, and another dimension had been breathed into them by the new man in charge.

Foster also notes that Brighton's mental fortitude was more prevalent than that of him and his teammates, something else which may be the result of merely seeing a fresh face in the dugout.

"They wanted it more than us today, which is crazy because that's our basic ethos: we know we've got to work hard first and foremost, to want to win. But like I said, we almost looked as if we thought we could just turn up and do it.

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"The Premier League is not billed as the toughest league in the world for no reason. You have to turn up, you have to work, and you have to perform every single week and we definitely didn't do that today."

Quite aside from a psychological rejuvenation, the opening day indicates that Potter has overseen a tactical innovation at Brighton, one which clearly outfoxed his opposite number, Javi Gracia.

Two key partnerships within the Watford squad — Doucouré and Étienne Capoue in midfield, and Troy Deeney and Andre Gray in attack — saw their effectuality starkly diminished, and the Seagulls often opened up a haphazard Hornets defence with ease.

"They seemed to find it really easy to defend against us. We had one real good chance with Andre at 1-0 which, if he puts it away, it's a different game. But you can't take anything away from Brighton; they played a lot better than we did today. In possession of the ball they were really tidy, picking passes out, but we just didn't offer much threat. They coped with us very, very well."

Rut emerging?

Brighton were fully deserving of their impressive result, and played with such quality, organisation and poise that they arguably would have achieved the win regardless of what the Hornets could have mustered to prevent it in an improved showing. But the severity of the scoreline was very much Watford's own doing.

Flat-footed, mundane and often disorderly, it seemed as if everything which had been fine-tuned in pre-season was forgotten in an instant, resulting in an inevitably lacklustre performance. Given the positivity and vibrance which appeared to emanate from the squad throughout the summer, the resultant damp-squib was a shock to the system.

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"In pre-season the lads were fantastic," Foster said. "The work we did was higher than we'd ever done, really. Everybody seems to be fitter and the stats back it up as well. But you need to put that into practice on a matchday and we just didn't.

"It's never good to start with a 3-0 loss, but maybe it'll ruffle a few feathers, wake a few people up instead of waiting for the good players to turn it on like they usually do."

The highlight of the afternoon for any Watford fan may very well have been the unveiling of two new signings prior to kick-off. England international Danny Welbeck and club-record addition Ismaïla Sarr — both unfit for competition on the day — were introduced to the Vicarage Road pitch for the first time.

Craig Dawson, another new recruit, started the game at centre-back, but his experienced presence did little to solve Watford's defensive problems which have been prevalent ever since the end of last season.

In fact, questions have begun to arise among supporters as to what extent the recent misfortunes can be attributed to poor form or pot luck. Some are fearing that the Hornets could be at the expense of a deeper, ingrained issue which is yet to be resolved.

Watford have shipped 18 goals in their last five competitive games, scoring just two. That run spans the best part of four months, including the end of the last campaign and the beginning of the current term, and the fact that an entire summer break hasn't proven sufficient to amend glaring flaws is a cause for concern.

But Foster maintains the belief that it's a complex predicament which the squad is capable of escaping from: "I don't think there's a wider problem, not at all," he asserts. "We strengthened really well in the summer — the signings we made are quality players that will improve our squad.

"If anything it's just the mentality. We know we've got some really good, really talented players, but that talent's nothing if you don't put in the extra work and grind. You could see with Brighton it meant so much to them, and that was missing for us.

Putting it right

Of course, Watford can find solace in the fact that this is just the beginning of the campaign. Head coach Gracia indicated in his post-match press conference that the loss, while far from ideal, could arguably not have come at a better time. The Hornets have 37 more chances to set the record straight — but the sooner they manage to do so, the better.

The first hurdle in their bid for redemption comes in the form of a trip to Goodison Park next Saturday. Everton will be the hosts and, after their investment and subsequent improvement over the summer, will provide another stern test at a time when Watford could do with nothing of the sort.

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Foster is adamant that he and the rest of the group will labour tirelessly over the coming week in the hope that the journey home from Liverpool is a pleasant one, and insists that every player knows their place in the matchday squad is far from guaranteed.

"First of all, we don't start with next Saturday — we start with the next session and all the days after it. Everybody is going to be held accountable now, whether you're starting or on the fringes. Hopefully it gets a rocket up all the players so they start thinking about how to cut it in this starting eleven.

"I think we need to make sure the intensity in training this week is pinpoint high. For me, the most important thing about winning football matches is intensity and a will to win, much more than the opponent."