By Omar Moore
April 21, 2021
So now it has come down to this: a Watford win over Millwall at Vicarage Road on Saturday is all that is needed for Watford’s immediate return to the Premier League.
Watford Football Club (aka Watford FC), whose very good 2020-21 English Football Championship season has become an outstanding one (not to mention Watford’s excellent 2021 calendar year overall), may end up needing only one point against Millwall to return to the big time in English football.
Bournemouth (third place) host Brentford (fifth) in a titanic lunch-time clash on the South Coast on Saturday. Should that contest finish with the points shared, the Hornets would need just a point in their game against Millwall that kicks off a couple of hours later, to ensure automatic promotion back to the Premier League, which they were relegated from a mere nine months ago.
Two of this Championship season’s biggest Hornets wins during Watford’s run of 12 wins in their last 15 matches were road wins — at Cardiff, when it appeared the Hornets were heading for a draw, and yesterday at already-promoted Norwich, where a decisive strike by Watford’s veteran midfielder Dan Gosling saw the Orns take all three points.
Watford’s enormous win yesterday at Carrow Road against Norwich — over whom Watford did “the double” (wins in both games home and away) this season — proved to be critical, as red-hot cherry hot Bournemouth have been on fire with seven straight league wins, the last two of those 3-1 and 4-1 away wins at Norwich and Millwall respectively. (Watford happen to be in the midst of playing the same two Bournemouth opponents and will mirror Bournemouth’s fixture opponent this week for a third successive match when the Hornets face Brentford away one week from this Saturday.)
Bournemouth have been on the rampage lately, not dropping a single point from their Championship matches since March 13, over five weeks ago (when they lost to Barnsley.) Had Watford not won yesterday at Norwich a mere six or five-point gap would separate the two clubs, and would have seen the Cherries have the opportunity to cut that gap to as few as three or two points before Watford even kick a ball this weekend.
As it stands, thankfully breathing room exists for the Hertfordshire club. Watford, who have already lost to Bournemouth (1-0) in the English Football Championship and do not play them again this season, know that no matter what Bournemouth and Brentford do in their early afternoon clash, a) one or both of them will drop points, bringing Watford closer to the Premier League, and/or b) a Watford win on Saturday confirms a place in the Premier League for the Hornets next season. After the lifeless performance against Luton last weekend, Watford head coach Xisco Munoz has preached togetherness, confidence and belief. All of those values were reflected in Watford’s dominant display yesterday in Norfolk.
Second-placed Watford can practically taste the top of the league itself. With Norwich needing five more points to lift the Championship trophy, it remains mathematically possible for the Hornets to end the season as Championship champions. The first and most important thing Watford will need to do is seal automatic promotion and do so at the earliest opportunity, before having to face Brentford in West London and Swansea (at Vicarage Road, Watford) to close out the season.
Both Norwich and Watford have a difficult run of final fixtures. So far, prior to the final three matches of this Championship season, Norwich have lost consecutive games (both at home) in the last week and Watford one (at Luton Town).
For a possible race for the title:
Norwich have two away games in their final three, while Watford have two home games in their final three.
This Saturday Norwich will play away at a very in-form Queens Park Rangers.
Watford will play at home against a rather out-of-form Millwall.
Next weekend Norwich will host Reading, who will desperately need points to keep faint hopes of a playoff spot alive.
Watford will be away at a slumping Brentford side.
On the final weekend of the season, Norwich will be at Barnsley, a team firmly rooted in the playoffs spots looking to cement positioning.
Watford will host a Swansea side who have been erratic and without their top scorer Andre Ayew, out with a hamstring injury.
It is worth noting that Brentford have a game in hand — which will be at home next Tuesday against Rotherham, who are fighting to stay in the Championship.
First, we shall see how things go this Saturday, beginning at lunchtime in the UK. Should Watford be promoted on Saturday that high moment would come almost exactly six years (one day short of) after their previous promotion to the Premier League (April 25, 2015).
What is interesting and noteworthy is that the same three teams promoted to the Premier League in 2015 are the same three that were relegated together in 2020 from the Premier League. One note of trivia: all three of those teams (Norwich, Watford, Bournemouth) stand to be promoted in the inverse order they were relegated from the Premier League in only nine months ago (provided that Bournemouth win all of the playoff games they play.)
ENGLISH FOOTBALL LEAGUE (EFL) CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE
before the start of play on Saturday April 24, 2021 (each team plays a total of 46 games)
The top ten teams in the 24-team English Football Championship as reflected on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
The top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League. (Norwich are already promoted.)
One of the four playoff teams (in the third, fourth, fifth or sixth position in the table) at the end of the season
will join the top two finishers in the Premier League if that particular playoff team wins two rounds of playoffs
including the playoff final at Wembley Stadium.
Photo: Watford players celebrate on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at Carrow Road after a 1-0 at already-promoted Norwich City. (Sky Sports)