Goals from Odion Ighalo and Craig Cathcart helped seal a much-deserved victory for the Hornets, despite a nervy finish in the final twenty minutes – courtesy of Jamaal Lascelles’ first goal for the visitors since his summer move.
After narrow defeats against Manchester City and Tottenham, Quique Sánchez Flores‘ men also succumbed to away losses against Southampton and Swansea in quick succession – with many critics suggesting that their bubble had seemingly burst, and they were destined for a mid-table finish.
First 45 packed with half-chances
Newcastle’s returning winger, Rolando Aarons, came close with an effort on the edge of the area. Unluckily for the 20-year-old forward, his strike was wide of Heurelho Gomes‘ post – who was untroubled.
A half-hearted penalty appeal was waved away by referee Andre Marriner after fullback Nathan Aké went down after a challenge from Moussa Sissoko – before goalkeeper Rob Elliot made an excellent double save minutes later to keep the score goalless.
First, he had to react quickly to deny Troy Deeney‘s effort. Then, within seconds, he was straight back on his feet to deny Etienne Capoue from slotting home a rebound toward the far post.
The Hornets should’ve taken the lead there, but had their own ‘keeper to thank that they didn’t concede shortly afterward.
A good passing exchange in-and-around the box between Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum meant the latter found Aleksandar Mitrovic in the area with a perfectly-weighted pass. However, the Serbian forward’s low strike was thwarted by the legs of Gomes – flicking the ball over the crossbar, out for a corner-kick.
Chances began to dry up until the half-time interval, as both were eager to retain possession and utilise it in the final third. The problem was – neither side were able to break the deadlock and change the complexity of the game itself, so to speak.
Ighalo opens scoring with cool finish
After a first 45 where the Nigerian forward was largely quiet and un-involved, Odion Ighalo opened the scoring within a minute of the restart. Deeney’s through ball was fed into his feet, and the combination play between the duo this season has been a joy to watch. Today was no different – a moment of brilliance meant the deadlock was broken.
Through on-goal, the 26-year-old weaved his way past Elliot inside the area before slotting home from a tight angle. Steve McClaren‘s men consequently struggled to get back into proceedings, and frustration was evident from the visitors – making needless challenges and relinquishing possession far too easily at times.
Two-nil up, from an unlikely source
It was soon, unsurprisingly, 2-0 to Watford. Craig Cathcart doubled the hosts’ lead in the 58th minute with his first goal of the campaign, after a flick-on from Ighalo from close-range. Admittedly, Elliot had no chance stopping the shot itself – and the defender just compounded the Geordies’ defensive misery.
Geordies hit back with one of their own – but it’s not enough
Jonjo Shelvey’s fizzing corner-kick delivery was met by the head of Jamaal Lascelles – who halved the deficit on his first Premier League start, having struggled with troublesome injuries since his lucrative switch from Nottingham Forest last year.
2-0 became 2-1, and the momentum suddenly shifted. Elliot did his utmost to keep his teammates in with a chance of snatching a point after denying Ighalo from completing his brace from close-range, but it was ultimately in vain. Despite their late efforts, Watford held firm at the back to secure all three points.
Their first win since December 20, coming in an impressive display against Liverpool, Flores will certainly be satisfied with his side’s display – but also hoping that they can use this result as a springboard for more success as tough fixtures come thick and fast.
As for the visitors, things aren’t looking particularly pretty. They face Everton, West Brom, Chelsea, Manchester City and Stoke between now and the start of March, and although they may fancy their chances, their lack of consistency this season could really hurt them against the aforementioned sides when it really matters.