There are no certainties in football. Take Watford's spectacular victory over Liverpool at the weekend; every statistic in the book suggested the latter would stroll to their 19th consecutive Premier League victory, in doing so creating a new record in the division.
But the Hornets clearly hadn't read the script. In front of an expectant home crowd at Vicarage Road — desperate for, at least, any reason to be optimistic about their chances of survival — the hosts made it a trip to forget for their visitors, and in emphatic style too.
All three goals for Watford came in the second half, but this was a complete and consistent performance spanning the entire 90 minutes. They had seven shots to the one of their opponents before the break; after it, they earned their just rewards.
Addressing the press post-match, head coach Nigel Pearson was predictably full of praise for his players, but issued a reminder that this is merely one more step in the right direction in what will be a long and painful slog from now until the end of the season.
"To beat the best club side in the world at the moment is testament to how we played," said Pearson. "It’s very satisfying, but it’s just one game — we’ve got 10 left and they’re all going to be very important. We’ve got to try to emulate what we’ve done here in terms of performance."
Pearson's reign began positively, with four wins and just one loss in his first seven league matches. A barren run then followed, with no fewer than eight points dropped in the latter stages of three recent matches, but this victory is a better sign than any that Watford are in the ascendency again.
"I’m really proud of the players and they should be really proud of how they’ve coped with a difficult situation. In the context of our season, it’s a really important three points. We knew we would have to be at our best, and I think we were."
Keeping heads screwed on
Watford have just beaten the champions elect, a team on course to better Arsenal's unbeaten season of 2003/04, the greatest club side both in Europe and the entire world. For Pearson, though, there is little time to marvel at what has just been achieved.
“I wish I could enjoy the good times a bit more, because I’m already looking at the next game. It’s very satisfying and it’s good to get reward for everybody’s work. My job is to steer the ship and try to keep some perspective in terms of where we are.”
In fact, the 56-year old would likely claim nothing has been achieved as of yet. Despite climbing out of the relegation zone at the weekend, the Hornets are still very much in the battle to beat the drop as the campaign reaches its climactic stage.
“With 10 games left we’ve got an awful lot of work to do," he said. "Our season so far has been littered with disappointment, so we’ve got catching up to do. It’s about us taking care of our own season — we can only affect other teams by getting our own performance right.”
A Sarr is born
Perhaps Watford's recent blip can be explained by the absence of Ismaïla Sarr. The Senegalese international had not started for more than a month since sustaining a hamstring injury against Tottenham Hotspur in January.
But he was back in action here and, consequently, the Hornets were back to their best. Sarr ran ragged a traditionally impenetrable Liverpool defence, utilising his pace and clinical instinct to score the first two goals and showing impeccable awareness to tee up Troy Deeney for the third.
Pearson was delighted with his winger's impact: “He is a really good player, and young as well. I’m reluctant to put too high an expectation on him; when you’ve got young players it’s important for them to enjoy their football, but his impact was very good. We need to do everything we can to keep him available.”
However, from the start of his reign the head coach has emphasised the need for a belief in the collective if Watford are to evade relegation this term, and he reaffirmed the notion by insisting that this was a superb team performance in which each and every individual contributed significantly to what would be an unforgettable night at Vicarage Road.
“The whole team delivered what they were picked to deliver, and that for me is what it’s about. I’ve said what a good group of people they are, as well as good players, so hopefully that will play an important role in the last 10 games.
“It’s a great result for us and I don’t want to underplay that, but with 10 games left it’s important we keep our fate in our own hands.”