Taking a look at the Hornets’ turnaround under Slavisa Jokanovic

It’s 10 January 2015. You’re in West Yorkshire and find yourself cold, agitated and furious. You’ve blown a week’s wages on a fruitless trip to Huddersfield to watch a 3-1 defeat that sums up why Watford just can’t get promoted; the Hornets’ fourth head coach of the season is surely set to make way for a fifth.

Now fast-forward three months.

Jokanovic has survived. Six of those responsible at Huddersfield take to the field against Middlesbrough, but this time the sun’s out and yellow flags are aloft. Maybe, just maybe, ‘our time is now’.

The Serbian celebrates Odion Ighalo’s piercing second with gusto; he’s that close to making history by becoming the third man to guide Watford to the top flight.

For a short while, it looked as though Jokanovic was going to go the same way as others had before him. A failure to extract any sort of consistency out of a squad that was infuriatingly underachieving, looked set to be his downfall.

Four straight November defeats looked as though it may see him off, before that thumping win in front of the cameras at Fulham. A horrible performance at Huddersfield may easily have then been the last straw.

But that miserable January afternoon turned out to be the turning point of his tenure; the penny appeared to drop for a squad which had failed to give enough on the pitch. When, perhaps, many of that side came to realise that ‘sexy football’ never has, and never will, give anyone a right to win.

Jokanovic said as much afterwards: “We were walking and we did not fight and we made too many mistakes. Quite simply, they worked harder than we did”. Damning.

No-one could accuse Easter Monday’s side of the same. In fact, bar a first half against Blackpool where the same complacency was evident, this Watford side has bust a gut for promotion ever since.

The reaction to Jokanovic’s rant was evident. Both in the media and, crucially, on the pitch there was a recognition that the performance at Huddersfield, which mirrored too many others in the first half of the season, was unacceptable. A seminal moment.

With the crucial appointment of Dean Austin, who appears popular amongst the players and the communicator that Jokanovic’s broken English perhaps needed, the entire staff has been galvanised.

With Austin, alongside Ruben Martinez, able to convey Jokanovic’s message, Watford’s head coach comes across as more the ‘overseer’. The brains behind this vast operation, if you will.

The former Chelsea midfielder’s tactical acumen – displayed in the early weeks of his Vicarage Road career – has been increasingly evident in 2015.

The half-time introduction of Ben Watson, another crucial January cog, was the catalyst for the aforementioned seven-goal Tangerine rout. Perhaps the Serbian gained confidence from there, as he has surprised and delighted us with an increasing array of bold team selections and substitutions in recent months.

For the first time under Pozzo ownership, we have a team that play with character and inspires total belief and trust from its fan-base – while also entertaining.

It’s not just a cliché or any half-baked notion to suggest that wins over Blackpool, Brentford, Bolton and Leeds wouldn’t have happened under previous regimes. It’s true. All too often this immensely talented set of players has folded when well and truly under the cosh. Jokanovic, with his John Smith’s Stadium realisations, has put a stop to it – simple as that – and he deserves credit for doing so.

Yeah, but can you do it on a cold Tuesday night in Wigan? Well, yes, we can actually.

Those cold eyes and an emotionless persona have allowed him to make numerous brave decisions, which other bosses, who are a little less detached, may have feared. Would Gianfranco Zola have dropped Troy Deeney after just one poor performance, as Jokanovic did at Bolton in February? Probably not.

Talking of Bolton, has there been a more enthralling, heart-stopping and ultimately rewarding game of football to watch in the Football League this season?

Our boss jumping up and down like a maniac at Troy’s winner was something else – a peep-hole into his oft strictly-guarded explosion of internal emotion.

What would you give for similar scenes on 2 May? Plenty.

1 comment.

  1. Absolutely. JS has not only knocked some inflated egos together, he has forged a team. And that includes the paying public as the twelfth man, home and away.

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