Magical night at Vicarage Road kickstarts Watford's final push for safety
Photo by Getty Images/Charlotte Wilson - Offside

It shouldn't need to be reminded that football offers no certainties, though one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise ahead of Liverpool's visit to Watford last weekend. It was a battle of the minnow against the juggernaut, far more unevenly matched than David versus Goliath.

Was this a contest, or simply an opportunity for Hertfordshire to witness the continuance of Liverpool's charge towards their golden crown? Each and every ounce of pre-game evidence suggested the table-topping Reds were set for what would be their 19th consecutive Premier League victory — a new record for the division — against 19th in the table. This would, surely, just be another step taken by Liverpool in their pursuit of that long-awaited, fully deserved title.

But Watford hadn't read the script. There was something eerily different about this night of football under the lights. Vicarage Road watched on in eager anticipation, far from the gloomy home which a team in the midst of a gruelling relegation battle may come to expect; and the players, to a man, lived up to the atmosphere which would be created from the boisterous stands.

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The first half proved that possession as an indicator of footballing dominance can be misleading. The Hornets happily conceded 70% of the ball, but went in at the break boasting seven shots to the one of Liverpool. Take off the rose-tinted glasses through which people view the Reds — and rightly so because of their unprecedentedly emphatic charge for the title so far this campaign — and there was, in reality, only one winner here.

Of course, there is so much more to Liverpool than simply having the majority of the ball. It was known from the beginning that a tactical masterclass from home head coach Nigel Pearson would be required, and it duly arrived, admittedly capitalising on a rare off-day for the opposition. Watford were happy to defend out of the knowledge of the sheer quality of their opponents, but once they gained possession of the football, their one and only aim was to score, and to do so as swiftly as possible.

The most efficient way to do this, it transpired, would be to utilise the raw ability and pace of record signing Ismaïla Sarr. First, he nipped in front of Andy Robertson to prod home a cross from Abdoulaye Doucouré, giving his side an unexpected but nonetheless well-earned advantage. The winger's performance and overall style of play was epitomised perfectly by his second strike, when he bolted down the touchline and away from the imperious Virgil van Dijk to latch onto a through-ball from Troy Deeney before confidently dinking over Alisson to send the stadium into pure raptures.

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Sarr was at the centre of Watford's third and result-clinching goal when he intercepted a pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold before teeing up Deeney to slot home from the edge of the penalty box. A star had been born, and had undoubtedly caught the eyes of the world — but don't let it be forgotten that this was a spectacular team display against the strongest club side that both Europe and the entire world have to offer. The odds and, indeed, the most potent opponents had been defeated.

Those three goals created jubilation at an electric Vicarage Road. If belief had been lost by a recent flurry of disappointing results, it must surely now be considered fully restored. This was something of a miracle, but the hope is that it can conjure a degree of momentum and consistency to help the Hornets escape the relegation battle as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

It was one rare occasion this season in which this Watford squad have truly performed to their full potential. The players, the owners and the supporters all feel this is a predicament that could have been avoided; turning this result into the catalyst for greater fortunes throughout the rest of the season will ensure its rescue has not been left too late.

Fearlessness both individually and as a collective, from the head coach and the players, on the touchline and on the pitch, is arguably what won Watford the game, and certainly the difference between narrow victory and the emphatic triumph that would ensue. It'll need to be on display in abundance from now onwards if the Hornets are to secure a sixth straight year in England's big time.

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The meaning of this victory is threefold. Firstly, and most obviously, it provides the Hornets with a considerable and unanticipated boost in their bid to beat the drop. They have now climbed out of the relegation zone for just the second time this season, albeit only on goal difference, and Pearson and his squad will be hell-bent on ensuring they never find themselves in the bottom three again.

Further significance stems from the opponents that have just been defeated. This Liverpool will nonetheless go down in history, both as club legends for delivering a first league title to Anfield in 30 years, and as Premier League icons for the sheer force with which they achieved the feat. Watford, for their part, could — the rest of the season permitting — be remembered as the only side to beat them in the 2019/20 league campaign.

Finally, and most saliently, is the meaning of this result for Watford as a football club. Compared to some of their current competitive rivals, they are dwarves punching above their weight. Five consecutive seasons in the top flight is impressive enough, though the aim is not to stop here. Relegation would see them drop down to the second tier, a level at which the Hornets are traditionally more accustomed; this result proves that they are not ready to bow out just yet.

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But bow out they might if they don't manage to produce performances of this calibre throughout the crucial run of fixtures which is approaching. It's almost consensus that this Watford squad boasts too much quality to go down — the Hornets are now left with one final chance, over the course of the coming two months, to prove it.