The thought of a relegation six-pointer taking place as early as November, just 11 games into the season, is almost ludicrous — but defeat here could bear serious consequences for either of these two teams whose dire predicaments can ill afford to be exacerbated further.
At 8pm on Friday night, Carrow Road will be the venue for a clash between the Premier League's current bottom two: Norwich City, recently promoted and struggling to accustom themselves to life in the top flight; and Watford, languishing at the foot of the standings, their five consecutive campaigns in the big time under considerable threat of coming to an end.
Just two points separate the sides heading into the encounter, meaning victory will doubtlessly be hugely significant in the battle to finish above one another. However, the prospect of a win may appear far more attainable to the Canaries than their opponents, as the Hornets are yet to win a league game so far this season.
Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster told the club's official website that he is under no illusions about the weight the result of the match carries for the team and its fans, nor about the battle which will stand between the Hornets and their first triumph of 2019/20.
"We know these games are huge for us, absolutely huge," he said. "It'll be a tough game but every game is tough. Just ask Manchester City — they went to Norwich a few months ago and lost. There's no god-given that you're going to get the three points."
Similarly, defender Craig Dawson recognises the significance of the clash in Norfolk, but remains confident of his side's chances of securing the outcome they desire.
"Obviously it's going to be a tough game. We know that and we've prepared well for it and hopefully we can get the result. We know it's going to be a fight and we're prepared for it."
Faith in the manager
Their less than ideal beginning to the season prompted to Watford to part ways with former head coach Javi Gracia during the first international break of 2019/20 back in September. Three defeats and a draw highlighted the deficiencies of the Spaniard's reign, those which had been already evident since a poor run of form towards the end of the previous campaign.
His successor would be named as Quique Sánchez Flores, the man that steered Watford comfortably to safety after their return to the top flight in 2015/16. The belief in the upper echelons of the Vicarage Road hierarchy was, and reportedly still is, that his ability to improve a defence and grind out results would be beneficial to the Hornets in the short term.
Although Sánchez Flores has little enjoyed the best of times so far in his Hertfordshire homecoming, Foster is an enthusiast of his methodology and has faith that new ideas will eventually reap rewards for the team.
“His man-management is brilliant," the 36-year old said of his head coach. "He’s very big on the mental side of things, I think that’s a huge part of modern football nowadays. He’s very organised and knows exactly the style of football he wants to play. He’s been working us hard on the training pitch, so we know our jobs.”
And Dawson echoed the views of his teammate, highlighting Sánchez Flores' positive persona as a crucial factor in the recent stabilisation of results, as well as a major contributor to the buoyant training ground atmosphere which has been conjured even amid the severity of the situation.
“He’s worked hard, he’s come in with bags of energy and confidence. He enjoys his work and it’s moving into the players. Training has been very good. I think you can see with the performances that we’re not a million miles away. Once that win comes, I can only lift the mood in the camp.”
Keeping heads in the game
In a position such as Watford's, it would be all too easy for hope, self-assurance and will to wane simultaneously with each passing week. The fans, the media and the club's directors are all obsessed with the search for that elusive win, which only mounts pressure on their cause; the prospect of relegation grows in statistical probability with each point dropped.
However, Foster asserts there are enough level-headed and seasoned professionals within the ranks for the Hornets to recover, and emphasises the value of self-esteem in this predicament, one similar to that which he experienced at West Bromwich Albion two years ago.
“We’ve got a fairly experienced squad. I think for me being an older player you learn to ride the lows and highs — you can’t get too carried away, you’ve got to stay constant. I think at the moment it’s a matter of confidence. If we can get the first win under the belt, we can move on from there and build.”
Foster and Dawson played together regularly at West Brom, where eight consecutive seasons of consolidation concluded rather abruptly in 2017/18 as the Baggies finished 20th. The latter trusts that the dedication and personality of the Watford squad will help them avoid a similar fate this time around.
“We’ve had a few games where decisions haven’t quite gone for us. That’s football," the centre-back said. "It’s important we stay focused and work hard. It’s been difficult, but we’ve got some big characters in the squad trying to keep us all together and everyone’s working hard as a team — we just haven’t had that win. It has not happened yet, but it will do.”