Watford 2-0 Rotherham United: Hornets bounce back with comfortable victory
Photo by Getty Images/Julian Finney

Visibly spurred on by their defeat at the hands of Cardiff City on Saturday, a dominant performance from Watford saw them stroll to victory over newly promoted Rotherham United at a frighteningly cold Vicarage Road.

Two first-half strikes from Christian Kabasele and Troy Deeney were the rewards for a quick start from the Hornets, and the Millers failed to mount anything resembling a comeback from there onwards. Perhaps the 2,000 supporters in attendance would have wished for more goals, but this was a far more pleasing display than that which led to a loss at the weekend.

The result sees Watford climb to 3rd in the table, while Rotherham remain 20th.

Story of the game

Coming into the match, Vladimir Ivic made three changes to the side that suffered defeat to Cardiff last time out, with Kiko Femenia replacing Ben Wilmot in defence, Nathaniel Chalobah taking James Garner's spot in midfield, and Stipe Perica coming in for Joao Pedro up front.

Ahead of a difficult fixture, visiting manager Paul Warne also shuffled his pack, with Billy Jones, Daniel Barlaser and Kyle Vassell all starting as Richard Wood, Joe Mattock and top scorer Freddie Ladapo made way.

On a night where it felt as if the only way to fend off the cold was to jump, cheer and project your voice, the 2,000 supporters inside Vicarage Road hoped for a performance that would incite them to do just that, the second match in which the attendance of fans was permitted following a far too lengthy period away from the stands.

Good link-up between Jeremy Ngakia and Ismaila Sarr did get the crowd on their feet inside two minutes but the winger, having evaded the sliding challenge from Angus MacDonald, was unsuccessful with his cross.

Perica forced Jamal Blackman into a fine save moments later, but the visitors found themselves behind from the resultant corner as Ken Sema's delivery was flicked on by Deeney to meet Kabasele in the box, the Belgian defender showing composure to slot the ball home for an early led. It was a disastrous start for the Millers, but exactly the reaction their hosts needed.

It was two inside 15 minutes, and it was provider turned goalscorer. Femenia charged down the left flank and supplied a fantastic ball into the box which the Rotherham defence failed to deal with, with the skipper Deeney lurking at the back post to prod home.

The Hornets well and truly had their mojo back tonight, pinning Rotherham back in their own half for extended periods. Intricate build-up play from Tom Cleverley and Sema presented the former with the chance to strike from the edge of the box, but it was just high and wide of that far top corner.

With Ben Wiles deployed in an unfamiliar left wing-back role for the Millers, Watford time and time again looked to exploit the weakness in that area, with Sarr and Ngakia set free down the flank by lobbed balls on numerous occasions. Just past the half-hour mark it was the turn of the latter to dart forth and conjure a chance, but his powerful cross was thwarted well by Blackman before it could reach those waiting in the box.

About five minutes before the break, a dangerous ball in from Sema hit Deeney in the box and the captain's deflected effort fell to the feet of Chalobah 18 yards out, but the midfielder's powerful drive drifted just wide of the post.

It was Rotherham who had the first chance of the second period as Vassell drew a superb save from Ben Foster, the keeper's first notable action of the match thus far. There was still plenty of time left, but the Millers surely needed that shot to fly in to give themselves any chance of a fightback.

To their credit, the visitors that had the better of the opening exchanges following the break, enjoying good spells of possession and preventing their opponents from being so troublesome in attack. Chances for either side were few and far between as the rain began to chuck itself down onto the pitch.

Dissatisfied with losing control of the match, Ivic shuffled his pack with just over 20 minutes of regulation time remaining, with Will Hughes and Pedro coming on for Cleverley and Deeney respectively, but genuine goalscoring opportunities remained scarce, a couple of ambitious efforts from Rotherham the closest either side came to affecting the scoreline.

The best chance came on 83 minutes when a powerful drive forward from Sarr gave him the opportunity to unleash Perica behind the Millers back line. The Croatian forward outmuscled MacDonald for the ball but scuffed his shot slightly as it trickled wide of the far post, Blackman stranded nonetheless.

Takeaways from the match

Ivic gets the reaction he needed

That defeat to Cardiff at the weekend was a real blow to Watford, who could have climbed into the automatic promotion places with victory but instead dropped out of the playoff positions — they'll feel that they're back were they belong now.

Defensively the Hornets were solid and largely untroubled, but it was the attacking exploits that will be most pleasing following recent struggles in that department; Ivic's team played with freedom, creativity and incision, reaffirming the notion that they have the quality to cause problems for the vast majority of teams in this league.

Pressure piles on Warne

The 2-2 draw at the home of another relegated side, AFC Bournemouth, a week-and-a-half ago looked like a step in the right direction for Rotherham, but three consecutive defeats put them back down in the dumps now.

Manager since 2016, Warne has overseen two promotions in south Yorkshire, but the need for better performances, and results, grows greater as the weeks fly by and the Millers continue to languish towards the foot of the table. Something — whether on the pitch or the touchline — will need to change soon.

Standout player

Troy Deeney (Watford)

In a game decided in the first-half, Deeney was the man to settle the contest with a goal and an assist within 15 minutes of the referee's first whistle.

Following a spell on the sidelines at the beginning of the season, the skipper's return to the fold has been a real boost for Watford, his hold-up play and ability to occupy central defenders proving pivotal the way the Hornets have performed in recent weeks.

Teams

Watford: Foster; Ngakia, Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Femenia (Wilmot 90'); Sarr (Quina 90'), Cleverley (Hughes 68'), Chalobah, Sema (Garner 84'); Deeney (Pedro 68'), Perica.

Subs not used: Bachmann, Navarro, Phillips.

Rotherham United: Blackman; Jones (Jozefzoon 69'), Harding, Ihiekwe, MacDonald, Wiles; Lindsay (Olosunde 46'), Crooks, Barlaser (Clarke 79'); Smith (Ladapo 79'), Vassell (Miller 79').

Subs not used: Johansson, Thompson, Wood, Hirst.

Up next

Following victory here, Watford travel to mid-table Birmingham City on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Rotherham host Bristol City at the New York Stadium at the same time.

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