The date was October 18, 1986 and Watford – managed by legendary boss Graham Taylor – beat visiting Aston Villa 4-2 at Vicarage Road. Little did anyone know at the time, but that match would go on to live long in the history of Watford Football Club. For in that game, Hornets striker Mark Falco netted a hattrick. He also scored against Villa the following year, before an unbelievably barren run saw Watford fail to even score against Villa again until late 2015 when they would win 3-2 at Villa Park – some 28 years later. The match in question however, until very recently indeed, held another record – it was the last time a Watford player had scored a hattrick in the top flight.
Those ghosts were laid to rest on 22nd February, 2019, when former Everton and Barcelona star Gerard Deulofeu showed his class by netting Watford’s first three goals in their 5-1 demolition of struggling Cardiff at the Cardiff City Stadium. He added to this historic performance by providing the assist for strike partner Troy Deeney‘s first goal of a brace, as Javi Gracia’s men proved themselves by far the better team on the day. It may not have been the smoothest season so far for the Spanish striker, but Deulofeu doubled his season’s tally of fantasy points – his performance here bagged him 16 for the weekend, taking his total for the campaign to date to 32.
The win took Watford into seventh in the league, with Gracia’s side performing well above expectations. Following the uncertainty of last season with the future of then-manager Marco Silva in doubt, many had been expecting that Watford could find themselves struggling more in the 2018-19 season. That has not proven to be the case though, for when Gracia was brought in to replace Silva during the course of 2017-18 he seemed to restore balance and belief in the squad very quickly. The 48-year-old came in to the club on the back of a rising reputation in Spain, and that reputation has so far proven well deserved with Watford now vying for a place in next season’s Europa League.
That is, of course, a far cry from what was initially anticipated, but with Deulofeu and Deeney having formed such an impressive partnership coupled with the stewardship of the likes of Abdoulaye Doucouré and Roberto Pereyra in the middle of the park, Watford are proving a tough nut to crack indeed. They do sit 10 points behind sixth placed Chelsea, but could potentially still find themselves playing on the continent next season by way of other side’s cup wins. Only nine defeats from 27 games so far this season shows just how far they have come since returning to the top flight in 2015, as they look on track to beat their most successful league campaign in the intervening years – 13th in their first season back.
Deulofeu, then, ensured that 33 year wait for a top-flight hattrick was brought to an end and in doing so has helped the side build some momentum moving into the latter stages of the season. That is why he is this week’s EPL Player of the Week.
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