Four points off the play-off places in the midst of a run of five games without a win, and next up it's the runaway league leaders.

These coming few weeks feel like the stage of the season that will define if Watford shake off their current malaise or struggle to recapture the form from earlier in the campaign when they looked capable of exceeding all reasonable expectations.

If there has been a total shift in the squad’s mentality, mindset and willingness to dig deep when things are going wrong – characteristics sadly lacking in the last few seasons – then this current predicament will be the perfect test.

“Yes, that is the right word: it is a big test for us now,” said Valerien Ismael.

“We have to make sure we stay strong and stick together.

“We know it is difficult, we know we are tired, we know we are missing that spark, but maybe now it is the chance to work hard for ourselves.

“When we play against opponents who dominate the ball more than ourselves we have to adapt our mindset and make sure we do the basics right.

“I think it is a process that lasts throughout the season.

“There are ups and downs, and now we are in another down.

“But we have to make sure we do not stay too long in the down and that we stick together.”

The Watford boss felt that the defeat to Cardiff at the weekend definitely hit the players hard.

“I think the Cardiff game was a big blow for us, and before that everything was good and it was all about moving onto the next step,” he said.

“At the minute we are not able to go to that next step, and we must assess the situation.

“We will analyse and try to find the solution but next to that is the massive part which is the schedule.

“That makes it difficult for us because it is relentless.”

The first half of the FA Cup replay at Southampton was as drab as the weather, but Watford looked well in the contest.

Only fifteen minutes after the start of the second half, though, they looked well out of it.

“I think that in the first half we were in the game plan. You know you are coming here against a team with a lot of confidence that hasn’t lost a game for a long period of time,” said the Watford boss.

“You have to be strong and solid, and suffer at some points, and you have to be good on the ball as well, staying calm and showing composure.

“I think we did that, and we grew into the game. The first 15 minutes were difficult but after that was better and we created some good situations.

“I said to the guys that we needed to step it up in the second half, to push for more.

“But after the first goal you saw that we dropped quickly mentally. Why? The tiredness.

“We were too late in the duels, we started to get yellow cards and we made mistakes. That is a clear sign of tiredness.

“Southampton grew in confidence, got the second goal and then the third goal, and we found it difficult to flip the switch to get back in the game.”