“Ultimately, results have dictated our decision” explained Watford’s CEO and chairman Scott Duxbury in his statement as he announced the news that Quique Sanchez Flores had been relieved of his duties following the Hornets’ damaging 2-1 defeat at Southampton.
Just 85 days after his re-appointment, the Spaniard’s second spell in charge came to a close with a solitary Premier League success in 10 matches (W1-D4-L5), leaving Watford marooned to the bottom of the table and six points from safety.
The Hornets did make a bright start on Saturday evening at St Mary’s, leading up until the 78th minute, but the writing appeared on the wall when Saints’ struck twice in five minutes to turn the tide. Unfortunate as it was, defeat proved the final straw for Sanchez Flores.
Watford have only eight points from 14 games and only four teams in the Premier League era have stayed up with as many points or fewer at this stage of the season. Only two of those, Wigan in 2007-08 and Sunderland in 2013-14, did so in a 38-game season.
The club’s decision to wield the axe is based on one simple reality – the Hertfordshire hierarchy know they must remain in the top-flight at all costs and that status is at serious risk. Those behind the scenes at Vicarage Road have worked tirelessly to ensure Watford not only arrived in the Premier League but stayed there.
So how did it come to this? Sure, Sanchez Flores has been unfortunate to be without injured talisman Troy Deeney, an inspiration, leader and spearhead on the pitch who has played only 34 minutes under the manager since having knee surgery in August. But the Spaniard also failed to make the most of Watford’s attacking options available to him.
The Hornets notched only seven league goals during his second stint with club record £25m summer signing Ismaila Sarr only breaking his Premier League duck last weekend. And once the pragmatic head coach saw leaks at the back became more pronounced, it was all over.
Watford’s logic, once explained in detail by Duxbury, is that a manager’s life at a mid-table club is a short one, perhaps two years at best. The person in question will either do well and be a target for others or there will be problems and a decision must be taken, as with Sanchez Flores. The question is, who will the Hornets turn to next?
Chris Hughton heads the betting but he, as well as Quique Setien, have already been ruled out according to sources close to the club. With Leicester, Liverpool and Man Utd to come before Christmas, decisions will need to made quickly, although the layers have little faith in Watford’s survival mission and have the Hornets down as 2/5 shots for relegation.
Luton boss Graeme Jones came in for plenty of vocal criticism from travelling Hatters fans on Saturday after Town were annihilated 7-0 at Brentford. Despite promising performances against Leeds and Charlton prior to the trip to Griffin Park, the Bedfordshire boys were sliced and diced in West London as they suffered their biggest league defeat since 1966.
Jones said he was “embarrassed” by his side’s performance and apologised to supporters, saying, “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We were fragile defensively and attacked with no intensity. We just collapsed and I have told the players that.” It was Luton’s sixth defeat in seven leaving the Hatters a point above the Championship drop zone.
The Hatters have now leaked 40 goals – more than any other second-tier side – and their defensive frailties again reared their head six minutes in when a poor back pass from Dan Potts evaded goalkeeper James Shea to gift-wrap the opening goal. That amateur incident proved the tip of the iceberg as Town disintegrated on an afternoon to forget.
Trailing 5-0 at the interval, Jones made two changes at the break, surprisingly keeping the back four in place, with Andrew Shinnie and Harry Cornick replaced by Luke Bolton and Brendan Galloway, before Luton’s day turned from bad to got even worse on 52 minutes, as Izzy Brown tore a hamstring. Later, Galloway also went off with a serious knee injury.
Last season’s League One champions are just 5/4 for an immediate return to the third-tier and must now dust themselves off for two potentially decisive matches against fellow strugglers Wigan and Stoke over the next week. But with patience now running thin, Jones’ position is under serious scrutiny and a change could be in the offing at Kenilworth Road.