South coast triumph gives Watford three crucial points with three weeks to prepare for the final push — they must make it count
Photo by Getty Images/Charlie Crowhurst

Cucho Hernandez's face said it all: relief, excitement, pride, passion, reflection. "Vamos!" he bellowed into the Southampton air before sharing an embrace with teammate Joao Pedro as the pair celebrated at the end of Watford's crucial win at St Mary's on Sunday.

The scenes after the final whistle made it crystal clear that this was a result Roy Hodgson's Hornets really, really needed, with the calamitous defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers just three days earlier still haunting memories. Those associated with the Hertfordshire club were reminded that they can still compete — a rudimentary, humbling but nonetheless important realisation to have, because it was genuinely doubtful before the victory on the south coast.

With two fine touches, Cucho had been front and centre of the triumph. First, he capitalised on a poor back-pass Mohamed Salisu to round Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster and finish well from a tight angle. That wasn't even the most impressive of his goals, his second being a brilliantly controlled volley in at the near post to send the travelling contingent into somewhat unexpected bedlam with 35 minutes elapsed.

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Those two strikes proved enough to earn Watford all three points despite Southampton's goal, courtesy of Mohamed Elyounoussi, to halve the deficit on the cusp of half-time — their attempted fightback after the restart was spirited but, ultimately, in vain.

Colombian Cucho held a deserved monopoly on the post-match headlines, but it should be noted that this was an admirable team display from the Hornets, one brimming with unity, resilience and resolve. It was a remarkably far cry from the abject performance and defeat at Wolves just three days earlier and it was therefore thoroughly reassuring to behold.

Ben Foster atoned for a horrendous error in midweek by making a handful of difficult stops as Watford clung onto their lead in the second-half; Samir and Christian Kabasele were both imperious and impervious at centre-back; the midfield functioned brilliantly, with Imran Louza in particular continuing his fine form as a number six; and Cucho may have been the goalscorer on the day but he relied heavily on the tremendous link-up play of Pedro at striker, while Emmanuel Dennis remained his usual crafty self.

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Everyone played well, but most significant was the fact that the team performed as more than the sum of its parts. Particularly when they were on the back foot and holding onto their lead in the closing moments, the teamwork and collective determination shown to secure victory was markedly impressive.

Without doubt, righting the wrongs of the nightmare in Wolverhampton would have been at the forefront of the players' minds and, truth be told, they couldn't have responded much better.

Not just the victory but also the nature of the performance made it feel for a brief, fleeting moment as if Watford had turned a corner — something which, these days, is often a dangerously deceitful thought. The truth is that they've been in this position before this season, presented with a good opportunity to string a run of results together, but they have yet to win two games on the bounce in this Premier League campaign thus far.

In fact, the few triumphs they have enjoyed have for the most part been followed up by almost diametrically opposed displays and results: see, for example, the substandard 4-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace in the midweek after the brilliant, and important, win at Aston Villa in February. They've made an unwelcome habit of dropping out of cloud nine and hitting the ground head-first.

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The next challenge for Watford is to ensure they don't let everything they apparently built in their last match slip, as they have done on far too many occasions this campaign.

Since this season's form suggests Watford generally respond badly to victory, perhaps the upcoming international break — effectively beginning a week earlier for Watford due to the postponement of their potentially decisive fixture with Everton which had been scheduled for the coming weekend — will be useful, with three weeks to consolidate what Hodgson has done thus far and to position the last few building blocks of their charge towards safety.

The manager is openly frustrated that many of his players will be leaving on international duty and believes this could hinder any progress they make over the break, however the reality is that there probably isn't a great deal more he could teach this squad; they have shown on a couple of occasions, however few and far between, that they can respond positively to his methods and in turn channel them into positive performances.

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What must come now is the removal of those games where they don't react so well, which appear — from the outside looking in, at least — to be more than anything resultant of a psychological impediment, something caused by intangibles which will in all likelihood render it incredibly difficult to coach out of them.

Perhaps victories inevitably engender an air of complacency, maybe Watford merely rely on their opponents having an off-day, or could it be that the squad simply isn't good enough to win more than the odd game of Premier League football? Whatever the cause, what the Hornets need for the remainder of the campaign is consistency, not fleeting, overly infrequent exhibitions of their potential. Stability will only come when they learn how to follow up wins appropriately.

Their next task takes them to Anfield, and not even the most optimistic Hornets will be hoping for let alone expecting anything there against a supremely good Liverpool side. More significant than the result will be the nature of the performance: they did the basics right against Southampton and that got them the win, but now they need to show that they can do it in multiple matches, one after the other.

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The Hornets now have a chance to build something but only nine games to make that opportunity count. They cannot allow themselves to slide back into the abjection that has characterised the majority of their season. The three-week wait to find out how they react to this latest victory will be painstaking but, nevertheless, likely beneficial as Hodgson readies his players for the final push.

Watford are now level on points with 17th-placed Everton and, although the Toffees have three games in hand, that alone is enough to affirm that they are still in with a good shout of survival. But they certainly won't get there unless they prove, beyond doubt, that they turned a corner on that dreamy, sunny Sunday by the coast.

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