Every aspect of the Premier League season is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, none more so than the relegation battle. Watford's bid to beat the drop took a turn for the worse with the defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The Hornets had the better of the opening stages at Selhurst Park but failed to capitalise on the early chances they managed to conjure. They were made to pay for their profligacy when Jordan Ayew scored for the hosts in the 28th minute and, against a resolute Palace side chasing three victories on the spin, it was always going to be difficult to overturn the deficit.
Returning from south London empty-handed still sees Watford nestled just above the bottom three pending other results; the implications of this result stem from the fact that yet more obtainable points, of which there will not be too many more, have been squandered.
Head coach Nigel Pearson knows this was an opportunity missed for his side, but has faith that he and his squad can manage the setback and prepare to right their wrongs in the near future: “We’ve had good spells of pressure and haven’t made the most of it, but we’ll bounce back because our players here are honest and committed.”
A frustrating afternoon
Perhaps the same can be said for every football, but it could have been a very different story indeed at Selhurst Park. Watford had numerous chances to take an invaluable early lead; all went begging.
First, Abdoulaye Doucouré danced into the box and forced a save from Vicente Guaita, with a drive from Ismaïla Sarr deflected wide moments later. From the resultant corner, Christian Kabasele connected with a loose ball but failed to adjust his feet to turn it goalwards.
Midfielder Will Hughes was central to each good passage of play from the visitors, but by the time he had skewed wide from a good position on the edge of the area, it had become crystal clear that fate was not best treating them this afternoon.
The opening goal being granted to the hosts, who had been under the cosh for the majority of the encounter thus far, felt more and more inevitable with each chance missed by the Hornets. It was an impressive finish nevertheless from Ayew, meaning Watford would only be able to amend their mistakes by breaking down a seemingly impenetrable Palace defence.
“I think we played pretty well, and it was a missed opportunity in many ways because of our inability to be decisive in front of goal," Pearson said. "We had chances in the first half in particular to go ahead. We’ll rue those chances, and I think the goal we conceded was one that we could have done better with in terms of blocking the shot.
“It’s a bit of a missed opportunity to pick up points, because I think we did enough in terms of performance to go away with at least a point and possibly we should have won it as well. But you’ve got to take your chances, that’s the bottom line.”
Onto the next one
On paper, this match was always set to be a fairly even one — history and the quality of the two squads suggests as much. But following the grit, gusto and ruthlessness with which Watford dispatched champions-elect Liverpool a week prior, the loss at Palace came as something of a surprise.
However, Pearson believes it to be a natural facet of the predicament the Hornets currently find themselves in, and was pleased nonetheless with the intent displayed by his side if nothing else: “When you’re in a relegation battle, it doesn’t happen very often that you replicate your best performances week in, week out. I task the players to play positively and I think they’ve done that.”
It will serve little to sit and wonder how and why events could have transpired differently at Selhurst Park. Of course, this whole season for Watford has in essence been a tale of what-ifs and the blame game.
Attention will now be directed towards the clash with Leicester City in the early kick-off on Saturday. It's a crucial fixture; at the homely turf of Vicarage Road, against a team not part of the traditional 'top-six', it could be one of few winnable games remaining for the Hornets as this instalment of the Premier League approaches crunch time.
“There’s no point wasting any energy dwelling on it now," asserted the head coach. "I’ve said in the past that I’ll measure our performance on us against ourselves, not what anybody else thinks of us. I know we’ve done a lot of things pretty well and we’ve shown an energy but we didn’t have the full performance unfortunately.”