15/05/2021

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How team meeting led by William Troost-Ekong spurred Watford’s promotion to the Premier League

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The stern look wasn’t there earlier, but when asked to defend his decision for the move and how it would affect his Super Eagles chances, the defender showed defiance.

It was a decision in my career, I stand by it. It was a new challenge. I enjoyed myself in Udinese, I think everybody saw what I could do there and I believe in the project for Watford to go there to the Premier League and we are working on that this season,” the 27-year-old central defender said.

From all his quotes about this move to Watford, two things were paramount. To stay close to his family and to fulfil his dreams of playing in the Premier League.

While getting to stay close to his family would have been fulfilling as expected, Troost-Ekong, on Saturday, April 24, 2021, reached another milestone; Premier League football.

Watford’s 1-0 win over Millwall on that Saturday guaranteed them promotion to the Premier League.

This feat looked obtainable in January/February 2021 after goalless draws against Millwall and Coventry that fell either side of only the Hornets’ second home defeat, which came against QPR.

Things were not looking good for their promotion hopes, and as a respected voice in the Hornet’s dressing room, Troost-Ekong called a meeting to discuss their awful performances.

Evident by the results that followed that meeting, performances improved remarkably, leading them to promotion to English top-tier.

They began sweeping opponents aside, a 6-0 win over Bristol City; won 1-0 away at Preston and won their next nine games.

Since that meeting, the Hornets have only dropped points in two games, a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough in April and a 1-0 loss to Luton. They 14 out of 16 games.

That was the key week for our season,” he told Watford’s official website.

“I felt that it wasn’t good enough, from how we played to the general feeling and the attitude of the team.

“We were negative and everyone was complaining. We looked like 11 islands instead of a team.

“We have the quality, but we were not pulling in the same direction. I was driving home from the stadium and I called some of the boys and asked them what they thought.

Troost-Ekong’s influence in Watford’s promotion feat also preceded and followed that meeting; he was also an influential player on the pitch.

He looked shaky in his first couple of games after joining late in the transfer window, but he recovered to post some strong performances.

He looked out of depth on his debut, which came against Derby in late October but soon returned to become a steady figure at the back for the Hornets. He got his only goal for Watford so far in his side’s 5-3 win over Coventry in early November.

Despite some flaws, Troost-Ekong had the tools required to thrive as a defender in the Championship. Robust and physical, he coped with the demands of the English-second tier.

He posted solid performances and helped Watford keep a tight defence in Vladimir Ivic’s overly defensive setup, which was not easy on the eye and was unpopular with the fans.

Watford struggled for consistency which cost Ivic his job in December 2020; Watford were fifth when they replaced him with Spanish coach Xisco Munoz.

The result improved slightly, although Troost-Ekong’s flaws began to expose him.

Sloppy in defence, the Nigerian was guilty of giving the ball away in a dangerous area and making awful long passes.

However, his inability to read the game and lack of concentration- often relied on his pave and robustness to catch up, exposed him in crucial moments.

There was a disaster of a performance in a 3-2 win over Blackburn in February and an own-goal against Derby that same month.

He conceded a penalty against Rotterdam the following month-although his goalkeeper saved it- and lost his man for Middlesbrough’s equaliser in a 1-1 in early April.

But in general, aside from his shaky starts to his Watford career and some questionable defending in January, Troost-Ekong overall performance helped Watford achieve promotion.

In Ivic’s three man-defence setup or Munoz’s two-man central defence formation, the 27-year-old was one of Watford’s most consistent players.

In the thick of their fantastic run from February, the Nigeria international formed an excellent central-defence partnership with Francisco Sierralta that became tough to penetrate.

Watford have 22 clean sheets in the 2020/2021 season so far, a testament to the brilliance of their defence.

“It’s amazing. I can’t really put words to it now,” Troost-Ekong after Watford secured promotion to the Premier League.

“It’s one of the best days in my life and in my career so far. We worked so hard for it and now we’ve done it, so I’m really pleased for all the boys.”