Watford climbed to fifth in the Sky Bet Championship with a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town thanks to goals from Tom Cleverley and Joao Pedro.
Story of the match
On the fourth anniversary of Graham Taylor’s passing away, Watford welcomed the Terriers to Vicarage Road less than a month after defeat in Yorkshire and eyeing only their second win in five games.
However, three points today would have lifted the Hornets above Reading into fifth and only three points off the automatic promotion places.
Taking charge of only his third game as head coach of the Hornets, Xisco Munoz made four changes to the side that lost away to Manchester United in the FA Cup last weekend.
With four games in the next 13 days, Xisco rested Will Hughes, Philip Zinckernagel and Andre Gray, with Kiko Femenia, Troy Deeney and Tom Cleverley coming into the starting line-up. Ben Foster also missed out due to a finger injury, to be replaced by Daniel Bachmann in the Watford goal, making his first league start for the Hornets.
Huddersfield Town travelled south also looking to find form and having won only two games in their previous seven matches and Carlos Corberán made several changes following an unlikely home defeat to Plymouth Argyle.
Naby Sarr, Isaac Mbenza, Caerel Eiting and former Hornet, Jonathan Hogg all failed to make the matchday squad, joining Tommy Elphick, Adama Diakhaby and Josh Koroma on the extensive injury list. Rooney Crichlow, Aaron Rowe, Alex Vallejo and Rolando Aarons all came into the starting line-up - the latter two making their first league appearances for the Terriers.
In the 11th minute, Ismaila Sarr, making his 50th appearance for the Hornets, crossed into the box looking for Ken Sema. The ball rebounded back to Pedro on the edge of the box, however, Ryan Schofield was quick to react and able to parry the ball away to safety.
Ten minutes later and a deep Cleverley free-kick on halfway found Adam Masina six yards out but the defender mistimed his header.
Watford continued to pour forward in a flexible 4-4-2 formation as Femenia and Masina found attacking space at will but seemed unable to breakdown a resolute defensive display by the visitors.
As the tempo slowed and the energy dissipated, they grew desperate and, as demonstrated by Deeney in the 30th minute, disorderly.
As Juninho Bacuna carried the ball towards halfway, Deeney flew in with a telegraphed hack that cleared out the unsuspecting midfielder. The Watford captain duly received a yellow card but it could have easily been worse as Bucana received lengthy treatment.
Cleverley then found Sarr on the edge of the box who cut in on to his right foot and hit an early shot from 18 yards low to Schofield’s left. The Huddersfield goalkeeper was equal to the effort as he smothered the ball and kept the score goalless at half-time.
Watford started the second half much like they started the first and were immediately rewarded for the increased energy with an early goal.
On 54 minutes, Vallejo passed the ball back to Schofield but the goalkeeper was caught flat-footed, enabling a dogged Cleverley to slide in ahead of the young Englishman to break the deadlock.
Watford doubled their lead only ten minutes later as Kiko Femenia turned on the style.
Targeting left-back Pat Jones, substituted on only a minute prior, Femenia sailed passed his counterpart to slide the ball across the six-yard box. Sarr missed the ball at the front post but Pedro was on hand six yards out at the back post to convert the cross for his sixth goal of the season.
Watford nearly went three up just after as Chalobah and Deeney threatened the Terriers’ goal but Schofield stood tool and gleefully held on to a weak effort by the Watford captain from eight yards.
After a string of changes for both sides, the chances dried up for Watford but confidence was evidently flowing through the side as substitute James Garner tried his luck from 25 yards with a fierce effort that sailed over the bar.
The visitors applied pressure on the Hornets defence in the closing stages but depleted by injuries and absent of a goalscoring threat, Watford held on comfortably for the three points and leapfrogged Reading into fifth and the Terriers dropped to 14th.
Takeaways from the match
A deficit of creativity and confidence
With four shots in the first half, 52% possession and 4 corners, it would seem that Watford don’t have a problem creating chances or getting into attacking positions.
But Watford’s attacking threat flattered to deceive in the first half as they struggled to breakdown the Terriers’ defence.
Had it not been for Cleverley capitalising on a goalkeeping error, this game could have gone very differently - a testament to Huddersfield's rearguard action and Watford’s ineptitude in the opposition half.
A game of two halves
Huddersfield rarely threatened the Watford goal and had to wait until the 78th minute to register their first shot on target.
With 280 touches in the first half focussed in their own half and only four efforts on goal with two on target, the hosts were a team transformed in the second half.
Buoyed by Cleverley’s opener and injected with a further dose of confidence after Femenia’s spark of brilliance, the Hornets dominated the second half.
Playing with a higher line, a greater share of possession and targeting the weakened left side of their visitors, Watford took the game by the scruff of the neck and deservedly came away with the three points.
Man of the Match
Kiko Femenia - Watford
When quality was lacking, the wing-back provided the only real moment of brilliance in attack as he moved the ball past Jones and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Pedro in the second half.
In defence, Femenia was rarely tested but always come up trumps for a Watford side that recorded their tenth clean sheet of the season.
After the game, Kiko Femenia told VAVEL of what sparked the turnaround at half-time.
“At half-time, the manager said the goal would come and we were playing well. The focus was on keeping the clean sheet and it was an important win for us," he said.
When asked on the effect Xisco Munoz has had on the side, Femenia was keen to express his gratitude for the new head coach.
He added: “He has lifted the mood of the club, he is a really positive and fun person, he is really close to all of us and it’s been really good for me.
I’m really happy with the performance of the team and i’m really happy with my own performance. I’m thankful to the manager for the minutes he is giving me.”