The injuries that have so far blighted Watford’s season – particularly in defence – are much talked about, and Jeremy Ngakia has every reason to feel he’s due a bit of better luck.

The 22-year-old has had more injuries than first-team appearances this term. He missed the start of the season with a back problem, returned on September 13 for the away game at Blackburn and just 73 minutes later he was back in the changing room having limped off.

His worst fears were confirmed a couple of days later when a scan revealed a torn hamstring, and he’s not been able to play since.

“I was playing with an injury during the summer. I found out I had a fracture in my lower back, and I was trying to manage it,” said the Deptford-born defender.


“It was tough and in the end I had to take a break away from the pitch because that was what the specialist suggested.

“So then that’s what I did, and I managed to make my comeback in the game away at Blackburn. My first game back and I think it was after 73 minutes I felt my hamstring pop. It literally popped.

“As I was walked off the pitch and into the changing room, I knew it was bad. It’s certainly not a good feeling when you get an injury like that.

“I had a scan two days later, and the doctor said it was a hamstring tear and I could be out for a while.

“When I found that out I just said I needed to get my head down and come back even stronger.

“It’s tough to deal with something like that, when you’ve been out for a while and you get another injury in your first game. But that’s stuff that comes with being a footballer.

“You have to try and move on as quickly as possible or you’ll suffer more.”

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Ngakia is one of a number of players that head coach Slaven Bilic knew would be available to him after the World Cup, and the Croatian had literally been counting down the days in his press conferences.

A week in Spain later, during which he played the first 45 minutes of the 1-1 friendly draw with Blackpool, Ngakia now just wants to crack on.

“This World Cup break has basically been a pre-season to us and especially for me,” he said.

“We’ve worked very hard as a group of players, and I’ve put in a lot of work individually too so that I come back stronger.

“It’s given us time to work as a unit, get together and be ready to push on and get promotion.

“I’m feeling good and strong at the moment, no issues. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

He’s got his eyes on that home game with Hull City on Sunday December 11.

“I can’t wait to play in front of the home fans at Vicarage Road again,” he said.

“I do set myself personal targets but the main target is helping Watford to get promoted.

“The fans definitely haven’t seen the best of me. Hopefully, when we start playing games again, they’ll see the best of me.”

Of course, Ngakia is no stranger to the fans, even if his first two years here have been a bit stop-start.

He made 26 first-team appearances in the 2020/21 season as the Hornets were promoted back to the Premier League, but then only 19 as they came back down to the Championship last season.

“That first season at Watford was really good,” he said.

“The atmosphere in the changing room was good; players like Chalobah, Hughes, a lot of positive people around the place. That’s what kept us going.

“I don’t even want to talk about last season. Just not at all.”

Ngakia’s first taste of senior football was as a 19-year-old for West Ham in the Premier League. His first two games? At home and away to Liverpool.

“Yeah, I couldn’t really believe that myself,” he said.

“In the home game I was up against Divock Origi, and that was a tough test as it was my first professional game ever. The atmosphere in the stadium was absolutely crazy, I couldn’t believe it.

“I was 19 and if I’m honest, I was a bit star-struck that day. It was a crazy way to play your first game but I got through it. Me playing and making my debut against Liverpool, unbelievable.

“In the away game I was up against Sadio Mane. I had to concentrate every single second because he is a world-class player. If you stop concentrating for one second, they punish you.

Watford Observer: In only his second game as a pro, Ngakia marked Sadio Mane at AnfieldIn only his second game as a pro, Ngakia marked Sadio Mane at Anfield (Image: Action Images)

“I always believed in myself and that I would be able to play at that level. When I’m there, playing, you get lots of different feelings and I just try my best.”

At the end of the 2019/20 season, with five Premier League appearances under his belt, Ngakia decided not to stay at West Ham and moved to Vicarage Road.

“It was a tough decision but I was just thinking about my future,” he explained.

“What led me to leaving West Ham was playing time. I just wanted minutes on the pitch and that’s the reason I decided to move on.

“There were a few clubs that were interested but Watford was the one that stood out to me.”

With most of his defensive colleagues in the treatment room at some point this season, Ngakia has never been alone – and those shortages at the back have led to many supporters eagerly awaiting his return to fill a perceived gap on the right.

“I don’t look at stuff on social media and that, so I’ve not seen the discussions about the right side. All I want to do is be back playing and helping the team,” he said.

“Watching from the stands and thinking to myself that I want to be out there and helping the team isn’t easy. I’m not a good spectator.”

In his brief appearance under previous head coach Rob Edwards, Ngakia was deployed as a wing-back, whereas current boss Slaven Bilic tends to play with a flat back four. Does he prefer full-back to wing-back?

“I like both positions to be honest. I’m just happy playing,” he said.

“Whatever the manager asks of me and whatever job he wants me to do, I’ll do it – and I’m ready to do it.

“The manager hasn’t put any pressure on me because he’s told me just to focus on being fit and ready for when the matches start again, because he’ll need me.

“The injuries I’ve had aren’t in my mind because I know how much effort and hard work I’ve put in with the physios and in the gym to make sure my hamstring and back are as good as possible.”

Should he be at full-back, he could end up with the likes of Ken Sema, Ismaila Sarr and Yaser Asprilla playing in front of him.

Watford Observer: Ngakia and Sarr against Manchester United.Ngakia and Sarr against Manchester United. (Image: Action Images)

“It doesn’t really matter who is playing in front of me, it’s a matter of working together,” said Ngakia.

“Sometimes I’ll end up being higher up the pitch, other times I’ll be deeper. It all depends on how the game goes.”

The defender couldn’t stress strongly enough how much he just wanted to be back playing again, and he believes the squad can return to competitive action with confidence after their results before the international break.

“I feel that in the games just before the break came, the team was really getting together.

“The group that we have here is more than capable of getting promoted so I’m not worried about us not playing well, we’ll click.

“It’s a tough division, especially physically. Sometimes you get some crazy fouls, and sometimes they’re not even given as fouls.

“It’s hard, and we know want to expect from two years ago. But we’re ready.”