Watford’s three years in the Premier League have been good. Better than good, really. We’ve had some lovely moments, some great runs and bloodied some noses. But something’s been missing. In each of those seasons past the campaign has coasted to a stop, trundling into summer like a regional train reaching its terminus.

Not this year. The unconvincing win over Palace last week, our third of the campaign over a club that’s become something of a bogey team, has set up a grandstand finish to the season, with every game a metaphorical cup final – and the possibility of a literal one.

With post-January struggles weighing on fans’ minds, we’ve been preoccupied this season with our tiffs with Everton and Bournemouth and making sure we finish above them. But it will be how we measure up against a new rival, Wolves, that defines our season.

The two-month rivalry begins with Watford getting the chance to break their new Wembley hoodoo in a few weeks, and continues with the hunt for seventh place, coming to a head with a showdown at Vicarage Road at the end of April.

It certainly feels like Wolves are the darling of the Premier League this season, which suits Watford, who like to work in the shadows, perfectly. To be fair, with their menagerie of Jorge Mendes-related stars, our orange friends in the Midlands are better built to take points off the big teams, and have more big results to their name this season, not least their defeat of Manchester United last week to set up the semi-final.

But the key to a strong finish to a long season is consistency, and that is one area that Watford, for once, are excelling in. There’s going to be loads of football over the next few months, and with the two league games moved to midweek to accommodate the cup run, they’re going to come thick and fast. The squad that the club has built, deep and resilient, will come to the fore.

The question is, how do we balance that squad? For a club just trying to hold its own in the league, the cups provide the chance to play around and throw a bone to the fringe players. The obvious example is Heurelho Gomes, clearly still a massive and much-loved presence at the club, who has been given a farewell tour this season in games of not much consequence.

Now that tour has reached Wembley, in a game that could shape the future of the club. If we beat Wolves in the semi-final, and return to face Manchester City in the big one (I’m boldly assuming they see off Brighton, here), we could go into the final already assured of a place in Europe. Win and we’re in, of course, but if we lose, then City, who have already taken the Carabao home to their trophy complex, cede their Europa League place to seventh place.

By then, we will know how the league places have shaken out, and with comparable run-ins for both us and Wolves, that game at the Vic with just a couple of weeks left in the season will be absolutely crucial.

And so, with two months of massive games ahead of us, can we afford to play anything less than our full team? Getting into the Europa League may be symbolic, and, as Burnley and others have shown, more often results in dour Thursday trips to Scotland than exotic jaunts to the San Siro, but with the approach of the club’s management and ownership, qualification would be huge in attracting talent to Watford, and taking the step up to the next level.

Gomes has performed capably so far this season, but Ben Foster is well on his way to his second Player of the Season award, and has won more than a few games on his own. Can we afford to willingly pass that up in the name of sentiment?

Fortunately, it’s not my choice. But with so much on the line, for once, it’s one that needs to be made.

Whatever happens, this season won’t be gently pulling into May, it will be roaring into the summer like a fast train speeding through Bushey, hopefully continuing all the way to Europe. Let’s make sure we enjoy it.