First Team 31/12/2019

Shakespeare: “The Players Have Been Terrific”

By Kevin Affleck

Craig Shakespeare has identified the spirit and hunger in the pumped-up dressing room as a major factor in the team's Christmas revival.

The transformed Hornets have picked up seven points in three games to alter the mood, completely change the outlook around the place and fuel belief. The last three games have been marked by several players rushing over to help out a teammate when a flashpoint has occurred and Shakespeare feels this is reflective of what he and Head Coach Nigel Pearson have been trying to get across in training and in team meetings.

“What we've tried to install is that competitive spirit, that togetherness as a team ethic is vitally important,” said the Assistant Coach. “And not just the starting 11 – the ones who don't start as they play a vital role over Christmas. The whole club is buying into the environment and culture we are trying to create. Hopefully this will stand us in good stead.”

Pearson and Shakespeare inherited a squad packed with international players and have focussed on harnessing that talent and marrying it with a bit of good old-fashioned hard work.

“You have to get a structure to the team,” said the former Leicester, Everton and England coach. “We had to prioritise the team ethic at the beginning and get a shape with and without the ball. You can do a lot on the training field but we've done a lot with the video, with debriefs on team shape.

“Ultimately, the players have to show enthusiasm, a desire to play. The biggest words to use are enthusiasm, desire and possibly drive. These players are decent footballers, but if the other things aren't with it, then it doesn't matter how good you are. The team ethic has been very, very big.

“The players have been terrific. The idea when you come in as a new management team is to have an impact and get results. You are never quite sure [if it will work] but we have had a positive impact. We are also aware that it's only the start. We have to maintain the confidence, the belief and the desire. We have to push on as we want to climb the table.”

Pearson and Shakespeare did not allow themselves to revel too long in the exhilarating win over Villa. Their attention immediately turned to the game with Wolves on New Year's Day and how they can get Vicarage Road rocking again.

“The home form is vitally important but I think it's key you stay competitive and try and win every game,” he said. “The crowd have been really impressive. The players have put in performances and the atmosphere has gone through the roof and as players and management, we recognise the role the supporters have to play. But we know we have to get them off their seats and our aim is to do that.”

Tickets for Watford v Wolves in the Premier League on New Year's Day are still available. Get down and support the Hornets at Vicarage Road.

Supporters buying match tickets for the Premier League fixture with Wolves at the same time as purchasing tickets for the FA Cup tie with Tranmere Rovers can get up to £15 off their Wolves ticket. The Wolves discount will be equivalent to the price of your Tranmere ticket.

First Team 30/12/2019

Team News: Wolves

Watford will be without the suspended Adrian Mariappa for Wednesday’s match with Wolves, while the availability of several other first-team players will be assessed between now and New Year’s Day.

Mariappa serves a one-game ban following his dismissal for two bookable offences in the 3-0 win over Aston Villa, meaning Nigel Pearson will have to decide whether to add Craig Dawson or Adam Masina to a reshuffled defence.

Will Hughes and Craig Cathcart were both withdrawn with injuries during Saturday’s game, and Assistant Head Coach Craig Shakespeare told the media this afternoon the pair are among a handful of players who will be checked in the build-up to the Wolves fixture.

“We’re still waiting on five or six players, either with illness or knocks. We’ll have a clearer idea tomorrow but we’re hoping that all of them make it,” he said.

“They [Hughes and Cathcart] are part of that five or six so they’ll be assessed tomorrow. As players they’ll want to be fit for the Wolves game so we’re going to give them every opportunity to try and make it.”

Troy Deeney has scored three goals in as many games and when asked whether the captain’s leadership qualities have been integral to Watford’s upturn in form, Shakespeare said that while the striker’s return to fitness has been important, each player has an important role to play. 

“It’s going to be important for now and for the rest of the season, but we’ve also got some other leaders. Ben Foster is very experienced and he is a leader, and I could go through the whole team,” he said.

“Every individual, whatever they’re good at, has to bring his best game to each game and that’s the idea. For example, when the flair players have the chance for one v ones they have to express themselves.

“Of course, Troy coming back in, he’s a big player for us and you can see his game effectiveness, but I’m sure that if he wasn’t there we’d have to call on someone else and they each have their own attributes.”