It may not have the appeal of a top-four clash or directly impact the Premier League title race, but there is plenty of reason to believe Saturday’s match at Vicarage Road between Watford and Wolverhampton will be a spirited and lively contest as the two sides vie for seventh place and a potential Europa League qualifying round berth.
Wolverhampton (14-9-12) enter the contest one point better than Watford (14-8-13), with the latter still on a two-track course for that potential Europa League spot. The Hornets can claim that berth if they can upset Manchester City in the FA Cup final next month at Wembley or overtake Wolves and finish seventh.
“We both want to finish seventh,” Watford right back Daryl Janmaat told the club’s official website. “There are a few other teams (fighting for seventh) as well. It’s a really massive game for both teams.”
Wolves, though, are out for revenge in this contest since they are the ones who lost to Watford in gut-wrenching fashion in the FA Cup semifinals. Wolverhampton were two goals to the good with 11 minutes remaining before Gerard Deulofeu started the Hornets’ fightback.
Troy Deeney converted from the spot deep in stoppage time to send the contest into extra time, and Deulofeu struck again in the 104th minute to complete Watford’s famous comeback and secure a spot in the FA Cup final for the first time since 1984.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side finally shook off the malaise of that loss, regaining their bearings with an impressive 3-1 romp over Arsenal on Wednesday. Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota all scored in a 19-minute span of the first half as Wolverhampton snapped a three-match winless spell and again showed why they are among the best promoted sides of the Premier League era.
“It’s been difficult since losing in the FA Cup semi-final. I couldn’t really get it out of my head for a couple of weeks – I was thinking about it a lot,” Doherty told the club’s official website. “A performance like the one against Arsenal was needed to push those thoughts away.
“Now we’re seventh again, and that’s where we want to finish. That might give us a chance of playing European football – depending on what happens in the cup final – and we want to challenge ourselves, so playing in Europe is the next step. That’s why Saturday (against Watford) is so important.”
The good news for Wolverhampton is Watford are not one of the bottom-six sides who have given Wolves fits all term. In some respects, it is amazing Wolves are seventh in the table considering they have taken just 11 of a possible 33 points (3-2-6) from the teams occupying 15th through 20th in the table – and last-place Huddersfield Town did the double on them.
Watford also enter this match without one of their regular XI as Deeney will complete his three-match ban for elbowing Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira to the head on April 15. The Hornets scraped out a 1-1 draw versus relegation-threatened Southampton on Tuesday, with Andre Gray’s goal at the death offsetting the fastest goal in Premier League history as Shane Long gave the Saints the lead just seven seconds after kickoff.
Manager Javi Gracia gave his side a proper tongue-lashing at the interval and introduced Kiko Femenia at the restart for Craig Cathcart, whose blunder led to Long’s goal. The move helped Watford gain their balance and eventually exert control, leading to a justified sharing of the point through Gray’s late marker – their 10th coming in the 80th minute or later.
“Andre is always there, ready to score in the last minutes,” Gracia said of Gray. “He has scored important goals in some games at home and (Tuesday) he did it again. It is not a surprise for me. He is a good player, a good striker.”
The Hornets have scored and shipped exactly 50 goals in league play, and Deulofeu will look to resume his blistering goal-scoring pace after failing to score Tuesday. He has netted eight of his 11 goals in all competitions over Watford’s last 10 matches.
The Hornets have needed those goals since they have not recorded a clean sheet in 11 matches since a 1-0 victory at Queens Park Rangers in mid-February in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
If you blinked, you missed the two goals Abdoulaye Doucoure set up for Etienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra in a 58-second span of the first half as Watford won the reverse fixture 2-0 on Oct. 22. That stands as the clubs’ lone Premier League meeting.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 2, Wolverhampton 1.
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(Etienne Capoue photo courtesy Watford Football Club official Twitter account)