Three walked-in goals brought a lighter step to Liverpool yesterday and surely stamped on Watford's faint hopes of Premiership survival. Not that Liverpool fully justified the praise of their recently much criticised manager, Rafael Benitez.
Benitez suggested: "We needed to show character and take our chances, which we did. As soon as we had scored we had space and used it well." Actually, even Steven Gerrard had a careless and largely unimpressive game, and he was not alone.
For Benitez this was a heaven-sent chance against the bottom club to claw back a scoop of credibility after he had suffered so much wrath by fielding an under-strength side against a youthful but sparkling Arsenal in the Carling Cup. The 6-3 defeat that came so soon after Arsenal had beaten a better recognised Liverpool (if there is such a thing) in the FA Cup, had brought a sort of apology from Benitez, who said the Premiership was the only priority.
Liverpool's problems even after those results are no more than worry lines compared with Watford's situation. Manager Aidy Boothroyd, who said yesterday's display lacked "the soul on which we rely", knows it cannot be long before the club accept a huge offer for the best of his squad. Ashley Young, the England Under-21 player for whom Watford have refused offers of over £7m, is one target, though yesterday he looked worth half of that. Boothroyd confirmed reports of an £8m bid, rumoured to be from Aston Villa, but West Ham might yet improve on that.
If Watford continue to be condemned for a long ball game, Benitez had been hearing similar voices of disapproval for his team pumping the ball up to Peter Crouch which they did again yesterday and it was ineffective because of the manager's decision to play with a three-man attack (more fiddling).
For most of the first half yesterday, Watford were pleased to keep the ball out of their own half while Liverpool, severely lacking in confidence and over-hitting pass after pass, defended uneasily. As for Watford's defence, initially Jay DeMerit stayed tight on Craig Bellamy while Malky Mackay controlled Crouch. That seemed to keep Watford competitive until the 33rd minute when Crouch ran through their penalty area but seemed to have been blocked by the Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster, who only deflected the ball out to Steve Finnan. A short cross was tapped in by Bellamy.
Six minutes later, and somewhat cruelly since Watford had created just as many chances, Liverpool extended their advantage. Bellamy's shot was solidly blocked by Foster but the ball rebounded to Crouch who had the easiest of open goals.
Liverpool were flattered. Apart from one typically audacious high-powered drive from Gerrard, they had not previously had a clear attempt on goal. Yet within five minutes of the second half beginning they were three ahead after another ridiculously simple tap-in by Crouch from Bellamy's pass across goal.
If Watford thought that yesterday would be a chance for Young to emphasise his potential value, they were disappointed. It had been 18 minutes before he touched the ball and it was 46 before he had a shot.
Watford adopted Liverpool's earlier talent for giving the ball away and but for a cracking 30-yard shot by Jordan Stewart that hit the crossbar they never looked like recovering.