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Gianfranco Zola believes Watford's mix of youth and experience will help team handle the pressure in the run-in
Gianfranco Zola is confident Watford’s mix of youth and experience will prove crucial in helping the team overcome the pressures of the Championship run-in.
With eight games to go the Hornets sit third in the table, two points behind Hull City, having endured a frustrating month that has produced just one win in four matches.
The latest result, a 1-0 defeat to Barnsley last weekend, saw Watford's squad include seven players under the age of 23 as well as four who were 30 or older.
Zola believes that blend of youth and experience will help Watford rediscover their form at the business end of the campaign.
"It’s important to have a mix and we have that mix," Zola said.
"If you have experienced players it’s obviously very important because they’ve been in situations like this and they know how to handle it.
"But you also have to have freshness. The young players are fearless, they don’t worry about things and that is important as well.
"I think we have a good combination of both in our team. We have experience and we have young players and they have mixed together very well so far - that will help us a lot from now on I am sure."
Of the 14 players that featured against the Tykes, eight are playing their first ever season in the Championship but that inexperience is balanced out by a handful of seasoned veterans.
Defenders Lloyd Doyley, 30, and Nyron Nosworthy, 32, will have played a combined 20 seasons in England’s second tier by the end of this campaign while Marco Cassetti, 35, and Fitz Hall, 32, have made well over 500 professional appearances between them.
Different players respond in different ways when the pressure’s cranked up but Zola believes the key is to strike a balance between staying calm and maintaining focus.
He said: "It’s about finding a balance between relaxing the players and making sure they focus on the job.
"You have to get them focused because that is important but not to the point where they get stressed.
"I think the experienced players in the team will transmit the right messages to the young ones but we’re not going to change what we’ve done so far because that would be crazy.
"We are getting to a crucial moment in the season but the important thing is to remain the same, to keep the intensity high but not to over-do things because that can make things worse."
One man also facing a debut Championship run-in is Zola himself.
Whereas those in charge of the Hornets' closest rivals - including Crystal Palace’s Ian Holloway, Nottingham Forest’s Billy Davies and Leicester City’s Nigel Pearson - have all felt the strain and stresses of a play-off challenge before, Zola is a relative novice.
Does he feel that puts him at a disadvantage?
"It’s true I haven’t been in this position as a manager or faced this situation as a manager but I’ve been in very similar situations as a footballer," Zola said.
"I know how things work when you’re under pressure and I’m sure I’ll do my best to get the best out of the players.
He added: "The Championship is an extremely difficult competition - it’s an intense season, you play a lot of games and all the games you play are difficult.
"In other leagues such as in Italy or Spain, when the second or third placed team plays against a team near the bottom it’s a game you already know you’re going to win.
"In the Championship you can never be sure and the results show that."