Watford 1-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers: Visitors prevail in European six-pointer
Photo by Getty Images/Marc Atkins

From the summit down to the foot of the table, the Premier League has witnessed a number of enticing positional battles, none more so than the race for seventh which Wolverhampton Wanderers now lead after their hard-fought victory at Watford.

Wolves took the lead just before half-time with a header from Raúl Jiménez, but the hosts replied almost instantly after the break through Andre Gray.

Watford mounted pressure in the aftermath of their equaliser but failed to find that elusive winning goal, which instead fell in the visitors' favour as Diogo Jota stroked home a sumptuous ball from Rúben Neves.

The result creates a four-point gap between Wolves and their rivals for seventh, including the Hornets who drop down to 9th, each with two games left to play.

Story of the game

Early on, there were few chances to speak of. Wolves looked the brighter of the two sides, their long throws causing a degree of confusion and panic in the Watford box, but it was nothing the hosts couldn't deal with.

The Hornets eventually found their feet and mustered some possession, keeping the ball well, but a lack of urgency prevented the creation of any real opportunities.

Neves came close in the 21st minute when he found space on the edge of the area and took aim at the near post, but the save was easy enough for Ben Foster.

Three minutes later, the first clear-cut opening in a tightly-contested affair arose. Roberto Pereyra picked the ball up in a deep position and surged into the final third. Despite being scythed down, he managed to pick out Gerard Deulofeu who found himself in space to score, but the Spaniard was unable to replicate his heroics at Wembley Stadium as he slipped on the turf and skewed his shot high and wide.

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After a nervy period, Wolves regained control of proceedings and worked a superb opportunity to open the scoring. They broke quickly from a Watford attack and Leander Dendoncker crossed to Jiménez in the centre, but the Mexican's effort was tame and Étienne Capoue was able to make an exceptional clearance off the line.

Minutes later, Watford, too, were left ruing a gilt-edged chance. Pereyra picked the ball up following a corner situation and lobbed the ball onto the head of Will Hughes, who missed the target from little more than six yards out.

Wolves finally found the breakthrough from the resultant counter-attack. The Hornets failed to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly for Jota, whose pinpoint cross supplied Jiménez to head past Foster from close range.

However, their lead was frail, and they were thankful to head into half-time a goal to the good. Just before the break, Gray held the ball up on the edge of the box and turned to create space for a shot, but the effort was wild.

Gray didn't have to wait much longer for his goal, which arrived in the 49th minute. Ryan Bennett's poor back-pass was effortlessly intercepted by Deulofeu who attempted to round Rui Patricio, but the chance looked dead as the goalkeeper parried the ball away. Yet Gray was there to pounce, lashing the ball home to even the scores.

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Eager to restore their lead, Wolves pressed high up the pitch through Matt Doherty before the Irish wing-back crossed towards Jota in the centre, but the forward misjudged his header in a similar fashion to that of Hughes in the first-half.

With little more than 20 minutes remaining, Watford were calling for a penalty after Hughes was felled just inside the box, but referee Simon Hooper waved away the claims.

They continued pressing to earn the advantage, and nearly pounced on a poor clearance from Wolves as Pereyra picked the ball up and directed his shot through the legs of Willy Boly, but it trickled wide of the post.

At the other end, the game continued in its topsy-turvy manner as João Moutinho found space on the edge of the area and took aim at goal. His effort deflected off José Holebas, which was enough to send it agonisingly high of the crossbar.

Wolves' lead was rekindled in bizarre fashion with just under 15 minutes of regulation time to play. Neves spotted Foster far out from his goal and lobbed the 36-year old, picking out Jota who gratefully caressed the ball into the open net.

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Penalty claims were once again waved away, yet this time it was the visitors left in frustration. Christian Kabasele dispossessed Jota with a sliding challenge with saw the Portuguese forward require subsequent treatment, but the officials were uninterested.

Stoppage time was a largely panic-free experience for Wolves, who held on to secure three crucial points in their quest for Europa League qualification, inflicting damage on Watford's similar aspirations in the process.

Takeaways from the match

Fine margins

It says a lot that all three goals came from defensive mistakes. This was an evenly-matched tie on paper, and it turned out to be as much on the pitch at Vicarage Road.

For the first two strikes, both sides were guilty of failing to clear the ball on a number of occasions, while misjudgement from Foster and his Hornets defence was opportunistically pounced on by Neves and Jota.

On balance Wolves were the slightly better side, but Watford were always in the game and certainly created the chances to muster a result. Had captain Troy Deeney been eligible for selection, they may well have been able to avoid a damaging loss here.

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Mission impossible for Watford

Make no mistake, the hosts still have the mathematical possibility to reach 7th place and qualify for European football, but this is a severe blow to their chances of doing just that.

With four points to make up on today's opponents, the task looks increasingly difficult. There are six to play for, but their impending opponents, Chelsea and West Ham United, will provide far from easy encounters.

However amid the disappointment, context is important, too. Few would have tipped Watford to still be in the running for 7th at this stage of the season, which is a credit the work of Javi Gracia and his players who may now be faltering due to the fatigue that a long, gruelling Premier League campaign can create.

The Hornets will hope to finish their league duties on a high before their trip to Wembley to face Manchester City in the FA Cup final on May 18.

Wolves' dream could become reality

In contrast, the hope lives on for Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves.

This victory puts them firmly in pole position to secure European qualification, which may in part repay the heartbreak they experienced in the Cup semi-final against Watford three weeks ago.

Again, it is testament to Santo and his squad that they find themselves in this lofty, desirable standing in their return season to the Premier League.

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Up next

Watford travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea next weekend.

Meanwhile, Wolves return to Molineux Stadium where they will host an already-relegated yet in-form Fulham side.

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