Suffice to say that Watford's slow start to the season remains yet to pick up speed. The latest in a run of poor defeats came at the hands of West Ham United who won 3-1 at Vicarage Road, a score which, other results permitting, will leave the Hornets languishing at the foot of the Premier League table for at least one more week.
In many ways, though, this was arguably the most respectable showing of the campaign yet. Andre Gray's equaliser in the first half was the least the home side deserved and they created the chances to take the lead after the break, but ultimately it was a self-inflicted loss, with profligate offence and haphazard defence once again proving to be Hornet hoodoos.
Watford head coach Javi Gracia is not one to seek excuses at a time when none will pass muster, and he is fully aware of the borderline adversity in which he and his squad now find themselves.
“I know in this moment we are all disappointed: the supporters, the players, all of us," he said. "It’s in this moment we have to believe and deal with it. We know after the defeats we need to change and do something as what we have done is not good enough. We need to improve. I know it.”
Pinpointing the problem
As per the cliché, football is often described as a game of two halves. But the disparity in this Watford display would not be found either side of the break — instead, it was the contrast in the quality of performance given by the defence and attack.
Those in the forward line did well enough; Gray's goal was the consequence of a neat team move of which there were many, especially early in the second half. Opportunities were squandered, but the real downfall was at the back. From conceding a penalty to shying away from tackles and aerial duels — see Sébastien Haller's overhead kick from six yards out for reference — it didn't make for pretty viewing for Watford fans.
Gracia believes there was perhaps too much emphasis on attack and that this was detrimental to the structure of the team, which in turn played its part in the defensive calamities that ensued.
“We need to find the balance we had before, defending and attacking. It is not only the responsibility of the defensive line, of the keeper; it’s the whole team. We can analyse the way we have conceded some goals but, in my opinion, all of them are different.”
It's now six consecutive league defeats for Watford, with no less than 16 goals conceded in that period. Remarkably, seven of those have been shipped against West Ham so perhaps the statistic is somewhat skewed, but it would be ignorant to neglect the fact that the defence is one of the weakest in the division if the numbers are anything to go by.
Issues at the back are becoming ever more prevalent which each passing game, but Gracia asserts that every player in any area of the pitch must raise their level if the Hornets are to achieve a reversal of their poor fortunes thus far.
“We know we can improve and we have to improve the balance," the 49-year old said. "If we had 23 shots and only three on target, that says something about the attack and that we need to improve and to be more precise, more clinical.
“Defending, we need to defend better at set-pieces. From a corner kick they hit the post, for example. In all different phases of play we need to improve. There are moments when the anxiety doesn’t help us to play better. We don’t have a good balance and it’s difficult to change that dynamic.”
How to improve
Acknowledging shortcomings accounts for less than half of the ordeal — solving them presents another matter entirely. Watford's head coach now faces a conundrum, the fiercest of his career in Hertfordshire to date, and an inauspicious one at that.
Sympathy can be offered in Gracia's direction because, on this occasion, the problems of the performance were rooted in the actions of the players in either box, all of which were out of his control. The Spaniard cut a helpless figure at times on the touchline, and understandably so. But the onus is now on him to deliver the resurgence.
“We’ve lost 3-1, that’s the final result. It’s true there were some moments in the game when we dominated, we created chances but if you don’t score more with 23 shots then it’s difficult. We have to be more clinical when we dominate the game.
“In the second half, it’s true West Ham played better and if we are critical with ourselves and demanding, we have to know we can’t concede seven goals in three games. We have to get the balance between attacking and defending and be more clinical.”
Now is not a time to dwell, but a time to endeavour for more favourable outcomes in the upcoming fixtures. With a daunting September on the horizon, next weekend's trip to Newcastle United is not only an early six-pointer at the foot of the table, but also the last realistic opportunity for Watford to get points on the board for a considerable length of time.
The Spaniard is well aware of the importance of that Tyneside clash, and will be in no doubt that only victory will silence the sceptics of his regime.
“We’ve been punished for all the mistakes," Gracia admitted. "It’s a difficult moment. We need to change the momentum and try to change with a good game and a good result.”