Stoke City temporarily moved up into seventh place in the Premier League with a strong display away at Vicarage Road. Watford were looking to keep the momentum up following their impressive result in the FA Cup Quarter-Final against Arsenal last weekend however, it wasn’t to be on a frustrating afternoon for Quique Sanchez Flores’ men.
It was the hosts who started the brighter and this led to the opening chance of the match. Troy Deeney rose highest to head the ball into Odion Ighalo's path. The striker attempted to shoot across Jack Butland into the far corner, but the Nigerian didn’t quite connect sweetly enough with the effort, and the Stoke stopper was able to make a comfortable save.
Despite the early pressure, the visitors began to get a foothold in the game as Gianelli Imbula and Ibrahim Afellay began to control the midfield. The former was particularly impressive at retaining possession and distributing the ball appropriately to keep the Potters moving forward.
Walters opens the scoring for the Potters
And it was Imbula who, in the 17th minute, picked up the ball deep inside his own half and began to carry the ball forward. He skipped past four Watford players before finding Afellay in space 25 yards from goal. The Dutchman released Phil Bardsley down the right hand flank whose first time cross was fired across Waford’s goal without a clearance. The ball came to Jonathan Walters at the back post who was on hand to fire in the opener and his eighth of the season.
The visitors again had the ball in the back of the net in the 36th minute. It was Bardsley again who showed great determination to intercept a pass and his low cross, which was identical to the one which led to the opening goal, allowed Marko Arnautovic to tap in from six yards out, but the linesman disallowed it for offside. It was an extremely tight call by the official, and one that on another day could have gone Stoke’s way.
Jurado spurns glorious chance
With half time approaching, the hosts had their best chance to go into the break on level terms. Again, it was Ighalo who was instrumental. It was his pass through to Jose Manuel Jurado on the left hand side of Stoke’s area and the Spanish midfielder should really have tested Butland, but instead, he hit the chance high and wide, and the Hornets struggled to fashion any more genuine chances.
After half time, both teams struggled to gain any real momentum. The hosts in particular struggled to impose themselves as their attacking duo of Troy Deeney and Idion Ighalo were too far from each other to link up and interchange. The pair have been pivotal for the Hornets this season, and Flores will want to make sure that it continues for the rest of the campaign in order for his side to maintain their upward trend up the league table.
Potters pounce on Gomes error
As it was, the latest striker to start for the Potters, Joselu, was able to score for the away side. Heurehlo Gomes failed to adequately clear his lines from a free kick and this allowed Walters to cushion a pass into the path of Joselu. The Spaniard scored with a delightful chip over Gomes from outside Watford’s box which justified Mark Hughes’ decision to start him and showed his potential as a sole striker.
Following this, Flores made a double substitution for the hosts as they attempted to get back into the game. Nordin Amrabat, who was one of the substitutes, nearly made an immediate impact, as he used his pace to bring the ball from the half way line and then neatly chipped it into the path of Ighalo. However, he failed to control when it looked for certain that the deadly striker would add to his 14 Premier League goals this season.
Deeney's goal not enough for Hornets
The Hornets could be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t to be their day, but with four minutes left of normal time Ikechi Anya, who was a second half substitute, found space down the left hand side and clipped a ball in for the unmarked Troy Deeney to head powerfully past Jack Butland. The Stoke keeper did get two hands on the save, but it wasn’t enough to keep the ball from going into the back of the net.
This goal gave the visitors hope and the home fans roared their side on to try and get an equaliser as Stoke sat deeper and deeper. However, the Potters hung on for all three points in a nervy last four minutes.
The win moved Stoke up to 46 points as Watford remain in 14th on place on 37 points. The international break allows both teams to rest and recuperate. For Stoke, the break is needed to see if it will help to consolidate their injury list which is currently mounting by the game. Watford will hope to see if a break can bring the goal scoring form of Deeney and Ighalo back as they have lacked potency in recent weeks.