It may defy belief, but that won't detract from the truth. The 28th season of the Premier League is almost three months old already. Title contenders have been established, the pretenders and overachievers continue to ridicule expectations, and relegation candidates quiver exponentially with each passing week.
Watford are a team which, after eleven games, find themselves in the latter contingent. They currently languish at the foot of the standings, winless, and enduring the club's worst beginning to a campaign in its 138 year history.
Their situation became exacerbated on Saturday evening when they were subjected to a deceivingly emphatic 2-1 defeat by European hopefuls Chelsea at Vicarage Road. The Blues put the Hornets to the sword and, were it not for both the heroics of goalkeeper Ben Foster and the ambiguities of VAR, their margin of victory would undeniably and deservedly been greater.
Head coach Quique Sánchez Flores is in no two minds about the severity of the predicament Watford are experiencing presently, but is confident claiming that elusive first victory will prove just the tonic for the Hornets to enter an ascendency.
“We know that it’s a really tough situation," he said. "Players lose confidence when we concede a goal in the first five minutes and we then tried to recuperate good feelings. We need to try to solve this situation. A good result will sort this.”
Positives to procure
Perhaps it would have been more than mildly optimistic to expect Watford to snatch a result from Chelsea, one of the most potent outfits in the league. The Blues were chasing — and would eventually secure — five consecutive wins, and sit joint-third in the scoring charts, with Frank Lampard yielding a great deal from a host of exciting academy graduates.
Nonetheless, Sánchez Flores was less than content with the manner in which the Hornets lost the game. Foremost of his grievances was the first goal, scored by Tammy Abraham after an outrageous yet effortless and unchallenged assist from Jorginho with just 245 seconds on the clock.
“The first goal we were not completely happy with," the 54-year old admitted. "We knew Abraham made that kind of move and we had three defenders there. It was an easy chance for them. In the second half we were able to counter this. The second goal — they have good players and they were able to make us suffer more than we wanted.”
However, Sánchez Flores made sure to assert the viewpoint that it's not a case of complete doom and gloom for his side. Indeed, 12 shots compared to 16 for their opponents indicate that Watford at least had chances to earn a more favourable outcome from the match, and the Spaniard believes his players need to capitalise more on any small moment in which they can gain an advantage over the opposition.
“We had positives, we were able to do good things but this did not happen for a full match. It’s tough for the players but we need to go for the positive moments and make more of them. When we concede so early it is hard for us but we stayed in it.”
Frustration fills the stands
Remarkably, the result of the match was ultimately determined in its final sequence of play. Foster nearly became the first goalkeeper in over six years to score a goal in the Premier League, but saw his diving header saved spectacularly by opposite number Kepa Arrizabalaga.
On a gloomy night in Hertfordshire, that was the solitary instance in which Vicarage Road felt enthused by what it witnessed. It would have been smash-and-grab had they claimed a point at the death, but every little helps in dire circumstances, and it was at least an indication that, for all their deficiencies, this is a team which will keep fighting until the final whistle blows.
“We’re working hard," he insisted. "We are trying to create positive energy in the stadium. Chelsea were better than us but we had the chance at the end to take a point. We need to be taking these things if we want to build something. We need to get into good habits.”
The most disharmonious moment of the season so far arrived in the second half, when Daryl Janmaat was substituted for Kiko Femenía in a like-for-like switch. With the team trailing by two goals at the time, supporters were incensed that the opportunity to make a more attack-minded alteration had been ignored.
Sánchez Flores sympathised with the emotion beneath the boos that ensued, but believes only a club together and united both on and off the pitch will be able to navigate the rut which Watford have experienced until now.
“I understand the reaction of the fans, of course, because they are frustrated like we are. I would like to make every single change that the fans would love but we won’t always agree. Let’s make sure there is always positive energy for them. The players have to create those moments for themselves of course, but everyone can help.”
With crunch ties against Norwich City, Burnley and Southampton all approaching before the end of November, counting on help may not be enough. It is now a make-or-break period for Watford, and the price for failure will be an initial condescendence of exacerbation into numbed desolation and, in all probability, eventual relegation.