After five seasons in the Premier League, along with a memorable FA Cup run which took them all the way to Wembley in 2019, Watford FC have now been relegated to the Championship after final-day defeat to Arsenal yesterday afternoon.
Ultimately, it was Watford’s dismal start to the season which has sent them down after failing to pick up a victory in their first 11 Premier League games, with the first not coming until they faced Norwich at the start of November.
After finishing in a respectable 11th place last season, and reaching the FA Cup final, perhaps Hornets fans were right to be relatively optimistic ahead of the season, but Javi Gracia’s dismissal in September was the start of what would be a managerial merry-go-round at the club.
Gracia was replaced with former boss Quique Sanchez Flores, who was in charge for the 2015-16 campaign before leaving at the end of that season.
Watford found themselves at the foot of the table for the majority of Sanchez-Flores’ second term in charge of the club, only picking up one victory before he too found himself on the receiving end of the owners’ cut-throat mentality in regard to sacking managers.
He had just 12 games in charge, including an 8-0 battering at the hands of Manchester City, but it was a 0-0 home draw to Crystal Palace that was eventually enough for Sanchez Flores’ time to come to an end yet again.
A third appointment was made in December, and this time it was Nigel Pearson’s turn to try and steer Watford to a, what would have been considered at this point as a great escape.
The former Leicester City manager faced a baptism of fire for his first three games at the helm, facing Liverpool and Sheffield United away and having to host Manchester United at Vicarage Road.
Despite losing 2-0 to champions-elect Liverpool in his first game in charge, the positive signs were there, and Watford completely turned their form around, picking up 14 points out of a possible 18, including memorable 2-0 victories over Manchester United and Wolves at the Vic.
Nigel Pearson had almost single-handedly turned the club’s fortunes around, taking them outside the relegation area for the first time after just over a month in charge.
The moment, and result, of the season was undoubtedly just before the coronavirus lockdown suspended the season indefinitely.
Watford welcomed Liverpool on February 29, who were on the brink of their first league title in over 30 years and had not lost a game up to that point, drawing only one.
A brace from Ismaila Sarr and a goal from Troy Deeney capped off a truly remarkable performance and victory, stunning the Reds and making the Hornets believe that Premier League safety was going to be inevitable.
During the lockdown, the Watford hierarchy expressed their concerns about restarting the season.
Scott Duxbury, the chairman and CEO said: “Critics will say my position is founded on self-interest and they would be absolutely right. I have a duty to protect my club and the people employed by it.
“There is no altruism in the Premier League. There are 20 different vested interests, which sometimes align but more often than not work purely to protect each individual club.”
The Premier League did eventually continue on June 17, and Watford had to prepare for a fight of their lives. Safety was in their hands, and they had nine games to try and achieve it.
After an underwhelming start, picking up just one point from the first four games since the restart, things started to look up for the Hornets after they beat Norwich and Newcastle.
Watford found themselves three points ahead of Aston Villa and Bournemouth with just three games to go, and safety could have been all but confirmed with a victory over fellow strugglers West Ham.
It was the Hammers who prevailed that night, meaning Watford had to pick up points in their remaining final two games against Manchester City and Arsenal, this was made even more difficult when a shock decision came just a few days after the West Ham defeat, that Nigel Pearson had been relieved of his duties with Hayden Mullins taking temporary charge.
Whether that was the correct decision or not, fans will have their own opinions on that, Watford failed to pick up any points against City and Arsenal, ultimately sending them down.
The Hornets’ five-year stay in the league came to an end and they will be playing in the Championship next season in what continues to be a competitive division year in, year out.
There is now a big summer ahead for the Hornets, with the big decision of who to take them forward and try and bounce straight back next season, and which players will be leaving the club.
Picture credit: Watford FC