It’s the granddaddy of new manager bounces.
After claiming just nine points from their first 16 games of the season, Watford have collected 13 in their first six under Nigel Pearson.
Under Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores they’d mustered one Premier League win. Pearson has four already – over Manchester United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Bournemouth.
Sunday’s thumping 3-0 victory at Bournemouth saw Watford go clear of the relegation zone for the first time this season. The full-time whistle was greeted with choruses of ‘Super Nigel Pearson’ emanating from the away section at the Vitality Stadium.
Watford supporters were sceptical when Pearson, the first British manager hired under the Pozzo’s ownership, was chosen as their third coach of the season.
The 56-year-old’s previous job was a stint with Belgian second division side OH Leuven where he was sacked by Leicester’s sister club after failing to secure promotion.
Before that he’d endured an even briefer stint with Derby, departing after a row with Rams chief Mel Morris over the owner’s use of drones to observe training sessions.
Pearson had not managed in the Premier League for four and a half years since his second spell in charge of Leicester.
After a disastrous start to the 2014/15 season, Pearson won seven of his final nine matches to secure the Foxes’ survival. With 140 days spent in 20th place, Leicester became the third Premier League team to stay up despite being rock-bottom at Christmas.
Yet despite leading Leicester to the great escape, despite laying the foundations for Claudio Ranieri’s miraculous Premier League title win, Pearson’s time at the King Power is best remembered for his reference to a large, flightless bird.
The infamous “I think you are an ostrich” rant was aimed at journalist Ian Baker during a post-match press conference in April in which Pearson labelled the same journalist “daft” and “stupid”.
Coupled with an incident two months earlier that saw him wrap his hands around Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur’s neck and Pearson’s temperament was called seriously into question.
Grilled by a reporter on whether he’d considered anger management classes, Pearson’s response was to turn the question on the BBC journalist in another excruciatingly tense exchange.
The Pozzos were undeterred. “His enthusiasm and motivation will prove essential and driving this team forwards and upwards,” said CEO Scott Duxbury on Pearson’s announcement.
Neither were they worried about the instability hiring a third coach of the season in December bring Watford whose promotion season came under four different managers.
The moment they felt Flores was unable to turn things around, he was dismissed on December 1st. Just as Gracia was in September, despite leading Watford to the FA Cup final just three months before.
The Pozzos saw that Pearson had the credentials to pull off another rescue act. He was in charge of Carlisle in 1999 when goalkeeper Jimmy Glass famously scored a last minute winner to spare them from relegation to the Conference.
Pearson was Bryan Robson’s assistant when West Brom became the first Premier League side to stay up despite being bottom at Christmas.
In his second permanent spell as manager, he saved Southampton from relegation to League One with a comeback win on the final day of the 2007/08 season. And he’d masterminded Leicester’s great escape five seasons ago.
As for concerns over Pearson’s temperament, the Pozzos identified that his steely demeanour, channelled in the right way, was exactly the shot in the arm that was required at Vicarage Road.
“The very first game at Liverpool I’ve seen him stick a rocket up somebody like you wouldn’t believe at half-time,” Ben Foster recalled via The Athletic.
“We’re doing really well, and he’s absolutely going after people and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, wow — I can’t let my standards slip here… You need to almost fear your manager a bit.
“We knew we had the players, we just needed someone to put a rocket up us – and that’s what it is. Simple as that.”
“He’s very straight to people,” Abdoulaye Doucoure said. “If he doesn’t like something he’ll say it straight away.” “He’s created a no B-S culture,” added captain Troy Deeney.
Players are working their socks off. As per Sky Sports, Watford outran Wolves by 5.4 kilometres in their 2-1 on New Year’s Day despite playing the final 25 minutes with 10 men.
In the 3-0 win over Aston Villa three days earlier, the Hornets scored twice more after Adrian Mariappa was sent off in the 57th minute. Following the 3-0 win at Bournemouth, Pearson hailed the “exceptional work rate” on show at the Vitality Stadium.
As Pearson himself stated, Watford were a team who “lost a bit of belief in themselves”. “Now what we’re seeing is players who look as if they believe in what they are and believe in their teammates.”
Watford are suddenly scoring again. In Pearson’s six matches in charge the Hornets have netted nine times, two more than the 11 they managed in their first 16 games of the season. It’s coincided with the return to full fitness of talisman Deeney – he has four in his last six.
At just under 12 shots per game, Watford are managing the same attempts as before. Yet since Pearson’s appointment their shot conversion rate has more than tripled, from 4.8% to 15.5%.
At the back, Watford are unrecognisable from the side who were thrashed 8-0 by Manchester City in September. Pearson played 4-3-3 on Sunday, Doucoure, Etienne Capoue and Nathaniel Chalobah providing solidity in midfield with Sarr and Deulofeu either side of Deeney up front.
Behind them Craig Dawson and Craig Cathcart were outstanding, barely giving Bournemouth a sniff. Under Pearson, Watford are conceding four shots fewer per game and are leaking just 0.67 goals on average, compared to 1.9 under Gracia and Flores.
On Saturday lunchtime they face a Tottenham side experiencing contrasting fortunes under their own new manager – Jose Mourinho.
The Mourinho experience was traditionally a period of success, followed by an ugly, drawn-out departure where the Portuguese falls out with just about everybody.
Yet in his past few roles, the success appears to be growing scarcer and the meltdowns are starting sooner.
Alarm bells are already ringing in north London after Mourinho labelled a Southampton coach an “idiot” and questioned the seriousness of club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele’s injury after the New Year’s Day defeat at St Mary’s.
Tottenham sit eighth in the table heading to Hertfordshire, nine points off fourth place and with just one Premier League win from their last five. A rejuvenated Watford hardly seem ideal opponents to stop the rot.
Watford supporters will recall Spurs’ previous league visit to Vicarage Road saw Gracia’s men came from behind to win 2-1 amid their best-ever start to a top-flight season.
Watford went fourth with victory that day in September 2018, repeat the trick on Saturday and the highest the Hornets can go is 14th. And yet it would mean a whole lot more than the heady heights of last summer.