Watford moved to within two points of today’s opposition as the Hornets dismantled a weary and toothless Aston Villa with their biggest win of the season at Vicarage Road.
Story of the match
Following a hard-fought draw away to 6th-placed Sheffield United only 48 hours ago, Watford welcomed Aston Villa to Vicarage Road having found some form. The point in south Yorkshire lifted them off the bottom of the Premier League for the first time since gameweek two and was the Hornet’s fifth point from the previous four games.
Nigel Pearson made only one change to the side that drew at Bramall Lane, with Abdoulaye Doucoure returning from suspension to replace Nathaniel Chalobah. Ismaïla Sarr shook off a head knock to take his place in the starting line-up, whilst Roberto Pereyra missed out due to illness.
Villa found themselves only one place but five points above Watford prior to today’s game, having stopped the rot of four consecutive defeats with a much needed win at home to bottom-placed Norwich City on Thursday.
Dean Smith made three changes to the team that won at Villa Park with former Watford loanee Henri Lansbury, Conor Hourihane and Jota – making his first league start since August – coming in to a 4-3-3 formation for Aston Villa, looking to win only their second game at Vicarage Road on 10 occasions.
With history of their side, Watford started the stronger.
With 30 seconds on the clock, Will Hughes saw his shot deflected wide for a corner and from the resulting set-piece Watford should have taken the lead.
Hughes swung in a deep corner that was played back across goal by Deeney to Christian Kabasele. Unmarked and four yards out, Kabasele could only put the ball straight at a relieved Tom Heaton in the Villa goal.
For the following 20 minutes, Watford continued to pile on the pressure.
The speed and movement of Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu down their respective right and left-hand sides caused more than a few headaches but the Hornets were unable to find a way through a resolute Aston Villa defence.
The visitors grew into the game and in the 25th minute thought they had taken the lead.
Matt Targett swung in an enticing cross to an unmarked Wesley at the back post. Six yards out, with only Ben Foster to beat, the Aston Villa number 9 thought he had scored as he sent the ball back across goal in the opposite direction of the scrambling Watford goalkeeper. With an outstretched leg, Foster miraculously managed to deflect the ball over his own bar for a corner.
It was another piece of goalkeeping magic to match Foster’s heroics at Sheffield United only 48 hours prior.
For the following 15 minutes the game turned scrappy as both sides sought a foothold in the game. Sarr, in particular, found himself receiving the lions share of the Aston Villa defensive attention as Watford sought to capitalise on his electrifying speed.
It was Sarr who nearly broke the deadlock in the 40th minute, cutting in onto his left foot across the 18-yard box, but after beating four Aston Villa defenders, he could only see his shot deflected wide for a corner.
A matter of seconds later, again from a Hughes corner, Watford should have gone 1-0 up as Deeney scuffed his effort on the edge of the six-yard box straight at Heaton.
One minute later, Watford’s captain didn’t need a second invitation.
This time, Doucoure saw his effort tipped away by the goalkeeper, but Deeney was quickest to react to turn the ball home under Heaton from a tight angle five yards out. It was only what Watford deserved.
Watford held the lead into the second half and continued their onslaught on the Aston Villa goal.
Doucoure and Sarr both saw early efforts deflected wide for corners early on as Watford’s attacking line caused havoc with their high-press and pace.
Sarr switched wings with Deulofeu throughout the second half and was constantly a threat to the Aston Villa defence. Targett, in particular, struggled with the Watford wingman’s decisive runs.
Watford were knocking at the door and it looked inevitable as they piled on the pressure but all the good attacking work from the Hornets looked to have come crashing down in the 57th minute as Adrian Mariappa was adjudged to have fouled a leaping Lansbury. There was no contact but the intent was enough for Mariappa to pick up his second yellow card and subsequent marching orders in the process.
Watford did, however, get that much needed second goal only five minutes later.
Deeney beared down on goal as Douglas Luiz looked to intervene. In doing so, Deeney came across the Aston Villa defender and was knocked over in the process. Simon Hooper immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
The skipper made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending it straight down the middle as 10-man Watford took a 2-0 lead.
Seven minutes later and Watford found themselves three goals to the good. Vicarage Road was in dreamland.
Deeney set free an over-lapping Etienne Capoue. Villa defenders were nowhere in sight as the Watford midfielder raced clear and put the ball on a plate for a lunging Sarr, eight yards out. Watford’s talisman finally got the goal his performance deserved as he sent the ball passed a helpless Heaton to send the long-suffering Watford fans into raptures.
Vicarage Road continued to rock for the duration of the game as Watford recorded their second win in three games and moved to within two points of today’s counterparts in their bid for survival.
Watford’s great escape is in full swing.
Takeaways from the match
It’s not breaking news to say Deeney has struggled since returning from injury. Prior to today’s game, he had only managed to manufacture 10 efforts since his return, six of which had been blocked and drawn only three saves. On Thursday against Sheffield United, Deeney only had four touches in the box.
Today, even with two goals, Deeney seemed slow and cumbersome with his first touch, but he hasn’t sustained his footballing career by sheer quality alone.
As Pearson told the media after the game, “Deeney loves the pressure, he loves to be able to fight and is always a handful. But he is still not at his best and that bodes really well… Deeney occupies opponents, he is the focal point, our captain, a very important player for us.”
Deeney’s reactionary first goal, second half penalty, physicality, and lay-offs were a demonstration of Deeney doing what Deeney does best, perpetual effort.
It was a captain’s performance.
With only three days until the official squad registration of Watford’s 18 year-old starlet, the young Brazilian arrives under unprecedented anticipation.
A week ago, Pearson attempted to stoke the flames of expectation: “He’s a young lad. He’s only trained once in a short-ish session with a few players… I think it’s very important not to put a lot of pressure on a young man who is coming into a difficult situation but from my perspective, my attitude to young players is that if they’re good enough I don’t care how young they are really.”
On today’s performance, Pedro will provide much needed attacking competition to Watford’s striking options, but he will also have to be ready to fight for his place in the side.
Pearson favours 4-2-3-1 with Deeney up-front and, unless Pedro hits the ground running, he may be restricted to FA Cup appearances for the near future. But that is no bad thing if it means Deeney puts in more goalscoring displays like today.
In truth, it could have been the whole Watford starting 11 until Mariappa’s sending off.
From the first minute until the very last, Watford were relentless in attack and stoic in defence.
Fresh from his one game suspension against Sheffield United, Doucoure was particularly impressive as he returned to the Watford starting line-up in his favoured attacking midfield role.
However, for his pace, his continuous threat, and marauding runs from midfield, there could only be one man of the match, Watford’s £30million Senegalese winger, Sarr.
However, Pearson preferred to praise the team for their efforts rather than single out one particular player: “I am really pleased with our concentration levels and quality, we showed an incredible unity on the pitch… but to succeed, survive, takes a concerted effort from everybody… the important thing is to be realistic… this is only the start”
And what a start it has been for Pearson. One defeat in five, seven points in three, and now only three points off 17th.
The greatest of escapes is in full swing in Hertfordshire.