Watford defenders hail first clean sheet of the season
Photo by Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

Every little helps, especially when times of dire need beckon. Watford may sit gloomily at the foot of the Premier League table and already have an unenvious four-point deficit to make up on 17th place, but their goalless draw with Sheffield United on Saturday witnessed an improvement in what had been the most glaringly abject aspect of performance so far: defence.

It was the first clean sheet for the Hornets since February, a run spanning no less than 238 days, and centre-back Christian Kabasele surmises putting that particular record to bed will be crucial in restoring the belief which has diminished as a result of a faltering start to the campaign.

“The clean sheet is very important for the team because since February we haven’t had one, so it’s good for the confidence," he said. "Even if we didn’t have the possession, we lost a lot of games in a row and it was first of all very important to not concede, because when you don’t concede you have at least one point.”

After what appears to have been a month or so of rigorous defensive training since head coach Quique Sánchez Flores returned to Vicarage Road in September, focus may now be somewhat shifted to the other end of the pitch and the small matter of scoring goals — Watford have so far amassed the league's lowest total of four.

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The Hornets were gifted an array of chances to secure their first win of the season against Sheffield United, but profligacy proved detrimental as Andre Gray, Danny Welbeck and Craig Dawson all sent golden opportunities begging — it's a trait which Sebastian Prödl is keen for the squad to shake.

“I think in terms of defending we did well. In terms of scoring we can improve, but I think we knew it would be a difficult game. We have to admit that it’s a disappointing result but on the other hand I think we showed some improvements as well.”

Kabasele confident of avoiding relegation dogfight

For all that Watford have self-deprecatingly trundled into the beginning of this season, it is also true that they can attribute a portion of the blame to fine margins. Performances against Everton, West Ham United and Arsenal arguably warranted more favourable results, while the use of VAR — or lack thereof — has naturally come under scrutiny in certain instances.

Belgian international Kabasele trusts that the elusive first victory will arrive sooner rather than later, but appreciates that the longer the wait, the more dire the situation becomes.

“I don’t think a win is far away. We need to believe and start to win as soon as possible. As soon as we can we need a victory to try to leave this position.”

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Incomprehensible is the fact that virtually this same Watford squad were chasing European football and preparing to contend the famed FA Cup final less than half a year ago, and the summer recruitment only made their eventual fall from grace all the more surprising.

The 28-year old believes the current predicament is not a fair reflection of the Hornets, and although he recognises its severity, he is optimistic that it will not last.

“With all the respect to other teams, I think we have too much quality up front to be involved in a relegation battle," Kabasele proclaimed. "But this is a reality at the moment, we are last in the league and we need as soon as possible to change the situation.”

Prödl delighted to return to the fold

Something of a leadership void within Vicarage Road has been cited after this poor start to the campaign, particularly since captain Troy Deeney was resigned to the treatment room by necessary knee surgery. It's an attribute which will surely be beneficial in the struggle to escape from any form of relegation concerns.

Prödl, with 13 years of professional experience including 73 caps for the Austria national team, could be an ideal fit for that role — certainly, he maintains that he is well-drilled in the art of avoiding the drop.

“I’ve experienced a lot in football, I’ve seen many managers, a lot of clubs and a lot of situations — especially situations like we are in now, at the bottom of the table, and I have experienced as well how to get out.”

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He was a regular for Watford in their first two seasons back in the top flight, and often partnered Craig Cathcart or the now-departed Miguel Britos under Sánchez Flores in 2015/16. However Prödl has found minutes to be more sporadic in recent years, with injuries a major factor.

Making the squad on Saturday made for his first Premier League start since April 2018, and the 32-year old was thrilled to officially resurrect his career after a period of stagnation.

“I’m glad to be back in competition at Watford," he admitted. "I’ve suffered a bad couple of months with injury comebacks and being out of favour but I was focused on my goal, that I want to be back for Watford in the Premier League to help the team, especially this very weird and difficult situation, to be back with my experience to help the team out. I am working hard.”