Francesco Guidolin watched from the stands as Swansea City took a big stride towards Premier League safety with a nervy victory over Watford at the Liberty Stadium last night.
Captain Ashley Williams got the only goal of the game with a powerful header just before the half-hour to give the home side their third win in 18 Premier League games.
The three points move Swansea above Newcastle and out of the relegation zone ahead of Sunday’s trip to Everton, when head coach Guidolin will be in charge.
The surprise appointment of the former Udinese manager, who had worked for the visitors as a technical supervisor, had been announced a few hours before kick-off and, while this was hardly a fluent display, several individuals will have caught his eye.
Captain Williams was chief among them, leading from the front with his robust marshalling of Troy Deeney, while Leon Britton was tigerish in midfield and André Ayew, who continues to be linked with Sunderland, tireless in attack.
For Watford, who had announced the signing of the Morocco winger Nordin Amrabat from Malaga before the game, this was a fourth league defeat in a row and, on this showing, they cannot consider themselves completely out of the relegation equation unless they can find an upturn in form after a largely flat display.
The decision to bring in Guidolin was a major surprise, given that Swansea stalwart Alan Curtis had been handed the managerial reins until the end of the season just two games and 11 days ago.
The Italian will also have the final say in selection and it will be interesting to see how he and Curtis dovetail.
But desperate times call for desperate measures and these are certainly desperate times for Swansea. With huge TV riches arriving in the top flight next season, this is not the year suddenly to lose your Premier League status.
While lacking experience in the Premier League, Guidolin, who is bringing the former Chelsea midfielder Gabriel Ambrosetti to work with him, will be a fresh voice for a group of players in need of revitalising after a number of lacklustre displays over recent months.
Guidolin had worked for Watford as a technical supervisor while holding a similar role with Udinese and Granada for the Pozzo family.
His new club made the better start, although it was a predictably stuttering and nervous opening, with so much at stake for the hosts and Watford looking to curtail a losing league sequence.
Guidolin hardly looked impressed when TV cameras captured him during the early stages of play, but there were positive signs for Swansea. The offside flag denied Wayne Routledge and Ki Sung-yueng after some sharp build-up work, while Ayew’s low shot was held by Heurelho Gomes.
Watford, in contrast, were happy to sit back and offered little. The Hornets had a penalty appeal waved away when Kyle Naughton appeared to handle as he controlled a cross under pressure from Jose Manuel Jurado, then Odion Ighalo could not connect properly with Deeney’s cross.
The tension among the home support was palpable, as was the sense of relief when Williams put them ahead. No Swansea defender had scored in the Premier League since March 2014, but the captain ended that drought as he powered a header into the bottom corner from Ki’s cross after the visitors had failed to clear a corner.
The Wales international had a scare a few moments later when his loose pass let in Ighalo, but recovered to snuff out the danger himself.
Watford, with some angry words from their manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, doubtless ringing in their ears, started the second half on the front foot and nearly found an equaliser after six minutes. Ben Watson delivered an excellent free-kick but Miguel Britos could only head the ball on to the roof of Lukasz Fabianski’s net.
Having enjoyed a surplus of first-half possession, the home side struggled for any sense of control and had a fortunate break when Jurado failed to find the bottom corner at the end of a sharp Watford counter.
Bafétimbi Gomis struck the post late on but it did not prove costly as Swansea ground out what could prove to be a crucial win come May.