Even saying the phrase ‘lancing the boil’ aloud or in your head is usually accompanied by a grimace as just the thought of doing so represents the pain involved.

For any Watford fans who travelled up to Sunderland in early October, they witnessed the footballing equivalent of a very large and painful boil that night. It wasn't just the loss, it was the manner in which it was suffered.

Down on the touchline, head coach Valerien Ismael was feeling the same pain, and he spent an hour with his staff and players locked in the dressing room afterwards as they carried out a calm but forensic discussion of what had gone wrong, and how to put it right.

Lest we forget that less than two weeks before the dark night at the Stadium of Light, the Hornets had surrendered at Leeds, and then chucked in a home howler against Middlesbrough in between.

So, while the long journey to Sunderland and back was miserable for the fans, the head coach and his staff recognised things had to change and so set about lancing the boil.

Six games without defeat later and everything looks much rosier. It’s not mission accomplished – far from it given the next six fixtures – but the whole Sunderland experience saw something positive emerge from a negative experience.

“I think a lot from that night has helped us,” said Ismael.

“When you are a manager and you find yourself in that sort of situation, you can go into the changing room and destroy everything and every player, and put the blame on everyone.

“Or you go the other way and try to find the solutions. We knew, in that moment, we couldn’t carry on like that.

“We had another game in three days and it was important to focus on finding solutions. We had to talk about what we needed to do to be able to compete better.

“It was a necessary discussion for everybody, not only the players but all the staff as well.

“It’s clear that what we found out was there were still things from the past that were still inside the heads and within the mentality. That has all been cleaned out now.

“We are in a better place mentally now, and that has allowed us to show our quality and that we can compete.

“I’m looking forward to the run of games coming up. Not only does it give us an opportunity to close the gap, but it also means we can see how we compete and if we can do it at that level with consistency.”

The next six games will certainly see just how competitive Watford now are – five of them are against teams currently eighth or better in the table.

“I think we are more ready now,” said the Watford boss.

“It will be good for us to compare this game with the one against Leeds, who are another top team that has come down from the Premier League.

“Things didn’t work out at the point when we went to Leeds, but this is now a different situation.

“I am looking forward to seeing my team compete at that level. I’ve seen big desire from my players, and now it will be interesting to see how we close the gap.”

Ismael believes his players should thrive on the challenges that are ahead of them, and not be scared or nervous.

“We work for times like this,” he said.

“We know the Championship and we know you get runs like this, particularly around Christmas.

“This is the beauty of football and the Championship, and players want to play all the time.

“It shows important our squad is and we will need every player during this time. They have to be ready, focussed and prepared to support the team whenever we need them.

“We have confidence now, but we have had to work hard to get to that point. Now I think the question is how far can we push.

“We want to be competing with the top teams, to see where we are and how we close the gap.

“Within the squad we now have big solidarity, and the players want to stick together, support each other and be brave.”

And while the head coach accepts that a game away to the league leaders is as tough a test his team can have of their new-found confidence, he doesn’t think it’s necessarily the toughest.

“I think all the away games are very difficult, although in different ways.

“Leicester away is difficult, but away to Millwall or QPR would be difficult too, except in a different way.

“The game this weekend will be more about football: tactically, technically and all the aspects you need to play football, not just fighting spirit.”