In a season as barren and fruitless as Watford's, any sign of encouragement is welcome. Proximity to victory becomes a measure of success rather than results themselves, and positives are sought even from the most abject losses.
But make no mistake, their showing at Anfield on Saturday was no embarrassment on their part. Perhaps the statistics would indicate it was yet another routine win for Liverpool, the juggernauts of the Premier League, but in reality it was far from it. Few onlookers would have been able to conceive that 37 points separated the two sides prior to kick-off.
The Hornets defended resiliently against one of the most potent attacking forces on the globe, undone only by a couple of strokes of technical mastery from Mohamed Salah, the two-goal margin of defeat representing a performance unrecognisable to that which saw them lose by no fewer than eight to Manchester City in September.
And they showed promise going forward too, fashioning golden chances for Troy Deeney, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Ismaïla Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu to score — but the profligacy shown in those crucial moments indicated why they have struck the back of the net on just nine occasions so far in this league season.
Head coach Nigel Pearson took charge of his first game and was pleased with what he saw, the optimism of the display in the north west far outweighing the gloom caused by the team's current predicament.
“If I was sitting here and we’d been beaten 2-0 and soaked up pressure for 95 minutes without creating a chance, I’d be feeling a bit worse for wear," Pearson said. "They’ve had a goal disallowed with VAR and they’ve had some good opportunities, but certainly in the first half we had the best opportunities.”
A valiant effort
At this moment in time, there is perhaps no tougher opponent in any footballing dugout than Jürgen Klopp. Likewise, his Liverpool side are arguably the most skilled at this game of any team on the entire planet. A points tally of 146 in roughly a season and a half speaks for itself.
Nevertheless, Pearson can be content with how his squad matched up to the Reds on Saturday and, despite defeat, pleased too with the execution of his own tactical gameplan. On another day, those numerous chances would have been buried, and points might well have been taken off the most proficient of opposition.
“We knew it’d be one hell of a tough game," he admitted. "We were aware it was going to be a case of risk and reward because you have to be disciplined when you come here and with a very strong team ethic, but I thought we also made life difficult for Liverpool and we created some unbelievable goalscoring opportunities.
“We were unable to convert them today and its of scant reward that we leave here with nothing for our efforts in terms of points, but I was very pleased with the collective work ethic today and that’s hopefully a shift in what we’ve looked like at times this season.”
Clearly, it was not a faultless display. While conceding to Salah is far from shameful, it did feel as if his goals — and indeed the defeat as a whole — were avoidable and yet, given Watford's current predicament, it was all numbly inevitable. Such fatalism does not bode well for the months and challenges ahead.
But the 56-year old saw much that encouraged him at Anfield, and much too that resembled the sort of football he intends to play with his new squad.
“The first goal and their other best chance came from our set plays and that’s something we’ve talked about, but if the players are wondering what we have to do to break this cycle of disappointment, my answer is to do what we’ve done here every day.
“We’ve got to play with that intensity in every game. If we do that there’s a real possibility of turning the corner and building some momentum, but we have to make it happen ourselves.”