Sánchez Flores hails "important win"
Photo by Getty Images/Naomi Barker

As it turns out, Friday night's alright for fighting, too. At Carrow Road, under the floodlights, Watford recorded their first victory in the Premier League this season by defeating fellow strugglers Norwich City.

It was, in every sense of the phrase, a crunch clash in Norfolk, with the division's bottom two locking horns in a game which neither could afford to lose. The side languishing at the very foot of the standings would eventually prevail.

The Hornets enjoyed a perfect start when Gerard Deulofeu waltzed his way to goal with just 76 seconds on the clock, and Andre Gray doubled the advantage shortly after half time. Watford navigated the last 35 minutes with ten men after Christian Kabasele's sending off to lift themselves to 18th, consigning the Canaries to the lower extremity of the league in the process.

Head coach Quique Sánchez Flores spoke to the club's official website after the game, and was under no illusions with regards to the significance of the result. More than anything, the Spaniard believes it will be vital in restoring some much-needed confidence in the camp.

“It is an important win for everyone at Watford," he said. "I hope this result can help the players to realise all the things we repeat to them every week: they are much better, they can fight and they can do more.

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"We are training hard but you need to believe, and to believe you need to win. To win you need to fight and to want it, and when all these things are put on the pitch you have more possibilities to win.”

Game-plan pays dividends

Needless to say, the encounter could have transpired all so differently had it not been for Deulofeu's impressive quick-fire opener. Despite the early set-back, Norwich grew into proceedings and were not intent on lying down in such a crucial fixture. Fine margins and key moments were always destined to determine the outcome here, and they did.

The second goal from Gray had a similar effect. It neutralised any self-assurance the Canaries had mustered during the break, and the hosts were visibly less vivacious from that point onwards, unable to capitalise on Kabasele's rather obtuse dismissal. Sánchez Flores was delighted with how the match ensued.

“We are really happy with the match and with how fast we scored. We suffered a little bit more because in the last 35 minutes we were playing with one players less, but I’m happy with the performance of the players — not conceding goals, scoring quick and playing with positive energy.”

Since Sánchez Flores took over from his compatriot Javi Gracia in September, there has been something of a stylistic and methodological transformation at Vicarage Road. A four-man back line has been expanded to five, the priority is clean sheets, and the extent to which training sessions are dedicated to the art of defending has increased.

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His view in the last two months has been that keeping out goals at one end will be more beneficial to Watford's cause in the short term and that, once that particular area is secured, focus can be directed on improvement in attack. It's an approach which is beginning to show signs of profitability.

“That’s now three clean sheets, which is really good, and I hope we can create this kind of spirit of a solid team playing well because in some parts of the first half I think we played very well.”

Crucial hurdle cleared

The size of this fixture was immeasurable, and now, so too is that of the victory the Hornets yielded from it. Quite aside from the obvious benefit it grants them in the standings, this was particularly pivotal in that it ended a barren run of 15 league outings with a win.

Watford have been involved in a number of weight-bearing matches in 2019 — a showdown for European football with Wolverhampton Wanderers and a FA Cup final against Manchester City immediately spring to mind — but Sánchez Flores asserts the fact that both sides here possessed such desperation for three points made the outcome all the more pressing, especially with top flight status potentially at stake later down the line.

“We knew this was a significant match and it felt like a final," he said. "We tried to give our energy with spirit and tried to put soul onto the pitch, knowing that they also needed to win and were playing at their home turf with a lot of supporters at a noisy stadium. But it was our time to show something else and to get some steps up was important.”

Friday evening was a timely arrival to the fore by a squad which has underachieved in the last six months. Players of the ilk of Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra and Étienne Capoue wield the quality to singlehandedly steer Watford clear of an impending relegation dogfight. Those are exceptionally talented individuals, with European and international experience, who would not expect to find themselves in a predicament such as Watford's.

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But the team's commitment to the cause shone through at Carrow Road, not least in the second half when they were reduced to ten men yet remained unscathed in the scoring. Sánchez Flores believes the heart and perseverance on display was the minimum deserved by the supporters.

“I want to say that this win is especially for the fans. I want to repeat that from me, my staff, and my players, because they are always there and they support and support and support since a long time ago.”