Boss of City’s survival rivals refuses to comment on trio left out of defeat following reports of party

Watford manager Nigel Pearson during his team's defeat to Southampton at Vicarage Road Picture: Rich

Watford manager Nigel Pearson during his team's defeat to Southampton at Vicarage Road Picture: Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Nigel Pearson says Watford are fighting for their Premier League lives but has refused to comment about the three players left out of yesterday’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton due to a party which allegedly broke lockdown rules.

Watfords Etienne Capoue, right, and Watfords Abdoulaye Doucoure after their defeat to Southampton Pi

Watfords Etienne Capoue, right, and Watfords Abdoulaye Doucoure after their defeat to Southampton Picture: Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Ahead of Sunday’s game The Sun reported that striker Andre Gray had posted photos on Instagram of a party at his house to celebrate his 29th birthday on Friday, with a kickabout on the artificial pitch at his house.

The images clearly showed more than the allowed gathering of six people, with the report claiming 20 people were in attendance, including Hornets team-mates Nathaniel Chalobah and Domingos Quina.

Given the Premier League’s relatively successful routine of testing all players and staff at clubs twice a week as the season has resumed amid the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, all three were left out of the Watford squad.

A pre-match post on the club’s Twitter account said the trio were omitted by the manager “to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and officials at today’s game” but the Hornets boss would not comment further on the matter after the game.

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Former Leicester boss Pearson took over in December and hauled Watford off the foot of the table with an impressive six-game unbeaten run initially but four defeats in six games prior to the season being suspended kept them in the survival scrap - in spite of a shock 3-0 home win over champions Liverpool.

They resumed with a 1-1 home draw against Leicester but lost 1-0 at Burnley and defeat to the Saints keeps them 16th but just a point ahead of Aston Villa in 19th, although seven clear of bottom club Norwich.

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Pearson said: “It was a difficult day against a side who move the ball better than us.

“They coped with the situation better than us, we made too many unforced errors, mistakes for the goals, so gave ourselves far too much to do and it’s disappointing for sure.”

He added: “We are fighting for our lives and we have not found performance levels I would expect from us.”

Gray had only featured briefly as a substitute at Burnley and has managed just two goals in 25 games, including during the Hornets’ 2-0 win at Norwich in November.

Former Chelsea midfielder Chalobah, 25, had featured as a substitute against Leicester and Burnley but Portuguese midfielder Quina, 20, hadn’t been on the bench since the restart and has mainly played in cup competitions this season.

Saints won thanks to two goals from top scorer Danny Ings and a fine free-kick from skipper James Ward-Prowse, leaving them on 40 points and safe in 13th place, just five points adrift of Spurs in seventh although having played a game more than all of the teams around them.

Norwich go to Watford next Tuesday, following games at Arsenal and at home to Brighton on Wednesday and Saturday of this week respectively, having been beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup quarter-finals by Manchester United at the weekend.

Watford go to Chelsea on Saturday ahead of the visit of City, whose survival hopes are still just about alive despite losing the first two games since the restart, thanks to none of their direct rivals winning any of their games either.

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