The 4-0 defeat Watford suffered at Sheffield Wednesday's hands in the Worthington Cup earlier this season does not augur well for their chances of securing the win at Hillsborough today that is vital to keeping Gianluca Vialli's promotion hopes alive.
Ahead of his team's two most recent home matches, Vialli said that victories were needed from both to keep Watford's play-off ambitions on track. A 2-0 win over struggling Grimsby Town last Sunday met one half of that requirement but, coming after Burnley had sneaked a last-minute winner at Vicarage Road the previous Wednesday, it must have seemed only a consolation success.
The Burnley match ended with Vialli, still revered at Chelsea, leaving the field to boos from his own team's fans for the first time as a manager. But if some Watford supporters felt Vialli had lost the plot that evening, developments this week suggest he had never grasped it fully in the first place.
Vialli's decision to transfer-list five high-profile players – Espen Baardsen, Marcus Gayle, Pierre Issa, Allan Nielsen and Ramon Vega – came with a frank admission from the Italian that his game plan is not working.
"The decision is part of our reassessment of the best way to achieve our aims," he said. "We are transfer-listing players that I have signed, but if I feel things are not progressing as they should then it is better to act straight away.
"This does not mean I am giving up on the season – it couldn't be further from the truth. I am simply putting in place a strategy which I hope will get us to the play-offs this season but, if not, will give us a great chance for next season."
The measure – a bold one given that the five cost some £4.4m between them – comes two weeks after Vialli threatened to drop any player who failed to demonstrate full commitment to his cause, although comments from Watford's chief executive, Tim Shaw, suggest there is more to what has happened than simply Vialli showing a ruthless streak.
Shaw, while appealing to Watford's supporters to get behind the team, admitted that some players had failed to appreciate their duty towards fans at a club that prides itself on being part of a broad community.
"The players who come in need to make the effort to understand what supporting this club is all about," Shaw told Watford's official website.
"They need to understand that if they want to connect with the supporters they've then got to go out of their way to involve themselves with those supporters."
"We've had a learning curve this year where perhaps we've realised that we've brought too many new players in." Vialli's response has been revealing, in one swipe dispelling the notion that he is a slave to expensive imports. Speaking about a "three-year plan" he has also been at pains to stress his own commitment, lest anyone should doubt it.
"It will be interesting to see now who is desperate to play for Watford next season," he said. "It is not in my nature to give in and I am looking for the same mentality from my players."
Watford continued their clear-out operation yesterday by making the forward Nick Wright available for loan with the possibility of a permanent transfer.
Wright, 26, has yet to figure in Gianluca Vialli's first team this season despite a full recovery from a cartilage injury which saw him ruled out for the best part of the previous two campaigns.Reuse content