Preview: Crystal Palace vs Watford (13/2/2016)

Written by Jack Pierce

Watford's steady return to the top flight after an eight year absence has taken most by surprise. A lot of predictions had Watford battling in and around the bottom three all season with a lot expecting Watford to be one of the most to drop at the end of the season.

Clever recruitment, in the dugout and on the pitch, as well as the form of two very intelligent strikers has been enough to see Watford sit pretty in mid table, a point above our lot, as we approach the final third of the campaign.

After Slavisa Jokanovic left the club during the summer having led Watford to promotion last season, it was anticipated Watford might implode. Far from it.

The charismatic and tactically astute Quique Sanchez Flores, formally of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Benfica was appointed and he's taken to the Premier League very well. He’s clearly won over his squad and each and every player seems to have bought into Flores' approach which always helps.

While the front two of Troy Deeney and the prolific Odion Ighalo have won most plaudits to this point, it's easy to forget the excellent contributions of others throughout the Watford side. Heurelho Gomes, Craig Cathcart, Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson have all performed well above expectation this term offering a secure and solid platform from which the front two can threaten opposing defences.

For Ben Watson, this season is one he perhaps feared had passed him by. After a succession of bad injuries at Wigan, Watson was unable to break back into the side and was offered a chance to start again at Watford. Just over a year later, Watson's being heralded for his performances in the Premier League while Wigan are fighting to get back into The Championship having been relegated into the third tier last season.

The arrival of Mario Suarez is one that is likely to put pressure of Watson's place in the side but if the ex-Palace man was to be dropped at this stage, it would be very unfair given his performances up to this point. However, Suarez is a very gifted midfielder and if he can quickly acclimatise to a new league, The Hornets have got themselves a very capable midfielder for almost nothing if the rumoured £4m fee they paid to Fiorentina is a true reflection of the deal.

Like us, Watford have stuttered since the turn of the year, with just one league win since Christmas but a few more wins and they'll have achieved what they set out to do at the start of the season; stay up.

If they do manage to do it, it'll be the first time that Watford have maintained their Premier League place for more than one season having been immediately relegated in their first two efforts.

It's becoming quite clear that The Pozzo family's main focus has turned from Udine to Hertfordshire and with an increased TV bounty heading Watford's way before the start of next season should they stay up, who can blame them?

The three club network of players had clearly worked for Watford as players already registered with Granada and Udinese had a huge impact upon Watford's promotion bid last season but they're having to start to stand on their own two feet now and bring in players on their own. Signings likes Capoue and January acquisition, Abdoulaye Doucouré, have been off the back of Watford's own finances and although Doucouré has been loaned to Granada for the rest of this season, it's clear that Vicarage Road is now the centre of what was an Udinese centred project just a few years ago.

In a season in which ‘big clubs’ like Aston Villa and Sunderland have struggled so desperately for form, Watford adapting to their new surroundings must be applauded. The eight points required for them to get beyond the ‘magical’ mark of 40 points will, as far as Watford fans are concerned, not come soon enough. The last thing they will want is to be drawn into a relegation scrap as the teams below them start to pick up points as happens most seasons.

All I hope is that they don’t leave Selhurst as happily as the last promoted side that visited SE25 just under a fortnight ago.