Story of the match
After a battling defeat away to Liverpool on Merseyside last weekend, Watford’s starting eleven remained unchanged, with attacking duo Joshua King and Emmanuel Dennis consigned to the bench with Joao Pedro and Cucho Hernandez continuing in attack.
Leeds United, unbeaten in the previous three league games but just two places above the drop zone, were still looking nervously behind them in the table and desperate to create some distance between themselves and the chasing pack.
In the 14th minute, buoyed by a vocal home support, Juraj Kucka won a free-kick 25 yards out. Imran Louza took command of the situation and sent a sumptuous curling effort inches wide, with Illan Meslier well-beaten.
Four minutes later and Watford again went close to scoring from a free-kick.
This time Hernandez whipped in an audacious effort from a tight angle on the left-side of the box that Meslier did brilliantly to tip wide for a corner.
With Watford in the ascendency, it took a piece of misfortunate and wonderful skill by Raphinha to set the hosts back.
With Kucka trying to make up for a poor Samir clearance, Kucka’s 50/50 challenge with Dan James deflected the ball into the path of Raphinha. It was all class after that from the Leeds United forward as he curled the ball past Ben Foster from 20 yards for his tenth goal of the Premier League season.
Watford continued to threaten from set-pieces, with Femenia’s corners causing particular havoc in the Leeds defence but Watford were unable to capitalise as Leeds retained their lead at the break.
Watford picked up where they left off in the second half.
With substitute, Dennis earning a corner after a tenacious full-pitch press, Femenia curled in a corner that Meslier did well to tip over the bar under pressure from Moussa Sissoko.
In the 54th minute, Watford were counting their blessings.
With Christian Kabasele caught the wrong side of goal, Raphinha played Dan James beyond the defence with only Foster to beat. Kabasele rushed back and attempted a desperate tackle from behind but missed the ball and brought down James. Somehow Andre Marriner didn’t point to the penalty spot.
The game started to open up after that.
With Watford pressing for an equaliser and dominating possession, Pedro dissected the Leeds defence with a through-ball to Sarr. With only Meslier to beat but off balance and low on confidence, Sarr fired high and wide, much to the despair of the expectant home support.
Leeds came forth once more.
In the 68th minute substitute Kalvin Phillips tested Foster from the edge of the box but Foster did well to palm the ball wide low to his right.
In the 73rd minute, Leeds had their second.
A loose touch by Samir in defence gifted Rodrigo the chance to nip in between the Watford centre backs.
With his first touch taking the ball past Foster, Rodrigo’s second was an easy tap-in to seal the victory and Watford’s fate.
Leeds still had time to add a third with five minutes to go.
After more poor defending from the hosts, Jack Harrison had time and space on the edge the box to drill the ball past a diving Foster.
The Leeds fans were delirious, the Watford fans were departing.
It proved to be the last action of note as Watford succumbed to defeat to the sound of boos from the few remaining fans who stayed for the final whistle.
Relegation from the Premier League now seems inevitable for the Hornets.
Takeaways from the match
Looking forward but not looking up
With two defensive mistakes leading to Watford’s joint longest run of home defeats in their history, the Hornets are architects of their own downfall.
Individual mistakes have cost Watford all season and there comes a point where they are considered symptomatic of a larger issue: lack of quality.
Watford are now six points from safety, whilst Everton have two games in hand. However close Watford may mathematically seem to survival, the performances are still not Premier League quality and the home fans will be expecting a mass exodus in the summer as the likes of Ismaila Sarr, Dennis and Joshua King look for pastures new. Watford will need to start planning for a future in the Championship sooner rather than later.
Sarr dreaming of a brighter future
With just 9 passes in the first half, Ismaila Sarr made the fewest of anyone on the pitch – both goalkeepers included.
Frequently chasing shadows for the first 45 minutes, AFCON winner and Watford talisman Sarr seemed to be daydreaming for large parts of the half.
Sarr was certainly not keeping up with play in the 44th minute as substitute, Dennis played the Senegalese winger through one-on-one with Meslier, only to see the linesman flag for offside. Sarr was two yards offside and Leeds were napping.
Sarr didn’t get much more lively in the second half.
With a golden opportunity to equalise in the 60th minute, Sarr rushed his effort and showed Watford what they are missing: a goalscorer.
The Leeds forward was energetic all afternoon as Watford’s defence failed to contain his creativity. It may be a reflection of Watford’s lack of confidence and wastefulness, but Raphinha was the best player on the pitch throughout and his classy goal signalled how far the Hornets are behind their Premier League counterparts.
Form is temporary, class is permanent and Leeds United had it in abundance with Raphinha.