Isaac Success: Another opportunity missed for Nigeria’s Afcon joker?

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The forward appeared to be a beneficiary of Troy Deeney’s suspension and Gerard Deulofeu’s injury, but the latter’s speedy return was to his detriment

After Troy Deeney’s stupid sending off in the 11th minute against Arsenal left his Watford side in the lurch with ample time to play at Vicarage Road, it put Javi Gracia in a tough spot as well.

The Hornets weren’t only reduced to 10 men, but were also a goal behind after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fortuitously put the Gunners ahead following Ben Foster’s error a minute before his captain’s dismissal.

With Andre Gray being the only striker up top and Gerard Deulofeu absent through injury, Gracia had the option of taking out one of his three centre-backs and introducing Isaac Success in a switch of tactic to 4-3-2.

Another alternative would have been the removal of a midfielder to result in Success’ introduction – which was going to see a 5-2-2 tactic in the defensive phase or 3-4-2 when the home side chose to go forward.

Javi Gracia Watford 2018-19

Sensibly, though, Gracia chose to leave it as it was in a 3-5-1 and only brought on the Nigerian forward, to replace Kiko Femenia, for the last half hour with the side from Hertfordshire threatening to equalize against their North London visitors, who were at sixes and sevens all game.

Ushering in Success didn’t affect the final score, a 1-0 defeat for Watford, but the frontman did create a big chance for his strike partner Gray.

There were a few instances of good combination play between the pair and it seemed like the former, who hadn’t started a game since early March (the 3-1 defeat by Manchester City), was finally going to get a reasonable run in the side alongside the Englishman.

However, Deulofeu’s return from injury in the very next game at Huddersfield Town meant Success has been restricted to cameos in games against the Terriers, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The attacker’s played 18, 13 and eight minutes of action respectively in those games, which has probably frustrated the 23-year-old, who felt he’d get a string of games owing to the side’s absences.

Isaac Success - Watford

The argument for more match action centres on the fact that Gracia’s side have the FA Cup final against Manchester City to prepare for, so it might have been sensible to give the fringe players more minutes in the final weeks of the season.

A counter argument, though, is the importance of finishing in seventh in the Premier League as it guarantees a place in next season’s Europa League if Man City win the upcoming cup final at Wembley.

Until 2015, teams could qualify for Europe by losing the FA Cup final if the winners had qualified for the Champions League place, but these days, only the FA Cup victors will secure a European berth.

Winning the final isn’t guaranteed for Watford, so maybe that was the reasoning behind Gracia playing the club’s joint top scorer so soon after his recovery from injury. With the benefit of hindsight, it hasn’t panned out as the Spaniard would have liked, given his Yellow Army suffered a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Wolves last time out which sees them lying in mid-table, four points behind Nuno Espirito Santo’s charges with two games remaining.

Wolves Watford FA Cup 070419

Having served his three-game suspension, Deeney’s set to come back into the side and ought to be available for this weekend’s trip to fourth-placed Chelsea. It does Success no good however, given he now returns to his place as fourth-choice centre-forward for Gracia, and chances are to be at a premium in the remaining league games of the campaign.

The likelihood of the Nigerian forward getting another start this season is largely dependent on results of the teams competing for that ‘best of the rest’ spot in the division.

Isaac Success | 2018-19 Premier League stats

A positive outcome for Watford in the penultimate gameweek probably sees a strong team step out at Vicarage Road on the final day against West Ham United, while Success and other fringe players should get a run out if ending seventh is not feasible.

On a personal front, this campaign has been mostly frustrating for the former Granada player, whose only sustained spell came as far back as late September through early November. Getting up to speed is difficult when you’re restricted to cameos, so it’s easy to empathize with the Nigerian.

Isaac Success - South Africa vs. Nigeria

With the Africa Cup of Nations approaching, it’s similarly hard to see how Success fits in, if he eventually gets selected in the final 23.

Paul Onuachu’s recent emergence might block the Watford man’s chances of getting a look in as an alternative to Odion Ighalo in the central striking role, while the spate of options in wide areas for Gernot Rohr makes it hard to find reasonable justification for his inclusion.

Given he hasn’t played much all season; eyebrows will be raised if Rohr opts for him at the expense of fitter, more in-form compatriots.

Suspension and injury at Watford seemed set to favoUr the underused forward, but Deulofeu’s quick return killed every hope Success had of catching Rohr’s eye.

It may now turn out to cost him a place on the plane for the continent's most esteemed international competiton this summer.