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Player ratings: Who would have got the thumbs up from Quique Sanchez Flores?

Heurelho Gomes 8.5
After a couple of howlers at Leicester and a nasty injury at Aston Villa, Gomes must have dreaded getting on the bus to the airport on Friday. But it was a case of third time lucky at the Stadium of Light as the goalkeeper put in a match-winning performance. Had it not been for a spectacular 81st-minute save, arguably his best of the season, a deflected Jermaine Defoe effort would have nestled in the bottom corner and Watford would have travelled back down south with only one point. Gomes dealt well with the wet conditions to parry away a number of long-range efforts and just about his only blemish was a first-half cross he should have caught instead of punching. “I believe a goalkeeper is like a wine,” he said on Match of the Day. He has certainly matured well and by the look of the way Quique Sanchez Flores embraced him at full-time, the head coach seems to agree.

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Allan Nyom 8
Put in a performance that led him to be described by some in the press area as “the best player on the pitch”. Nyom was back to his marauding best down the right wing, returning to the sort of form he produced in the late summer sunshine against Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton. It was his cross that led to Odion Ighalo’s goal and he accepted every opportunity to gallop forward. His also prevented the searing pace of Duncan Watmore from unhinging the defence.

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Craig Cathcart 7
There was never going to be the remotest possibility he was going to have one eye on the Euro 2016 draw. Nathan Ake and Miguel Britos have been latecomers to this defence but the Northern Ireland international has been at the heart of things since the first Premier League ball was kicked and been part of everyone of the seven clean sheets. He was as reliable as ever on Saturday and when he did make a mistake (like when his half-clearance fell to Stephen Fletcher) he atoned by blocking the subsequent shot.

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Miguel Britos  8
Sanchez Flores’ decision to drop Sebastien Prödl for Britos gains more credibility by the week, so much so that you are now left asking why it didn’t happen sooner. Britos had a near-faultless game at the heart of the defence and you would have thought it was he, and not Sebastian Coates, who has been capped 17 times by Uruguay. Even his near own-goal was a result of him straining his neck to win a free-kick, while his best moment came when Fletcher skipped past Cathcart and Britos got across quickly to cover his partner and snuff out the danger.

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Nathan Ake 7
Showed why Chelsea tied him to a five-year deal and let his opposite Patrick van Aanholt join Sunderland. He was the pick of the Dutch left-backs on show, even though he spent much of it hobbling after taking an early whack when executing a perfectly-timed tackle on Billy Jones. His positioning was questionable when Fabio Borini got past Britos in the space Ake should have been occupying but he’s come a long, long way since a nervy debut against Preston. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect to be nine places and ten points above his parent club in the table after 16 games.

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Ben Watson 7
So outnumbered and outplayed in midfield, Sam Allardyce replaced DeAndre Yedlin with Jack Rodwell after just 20 minutes, which was a compliment to the control and grip Watson and Etienne Capoue had on things early on. Watson was crowded out thereafter and not quite the same conduit between defence and attack but he swept up and screened the back four well and slotted in brilliantly in the space between the full-back and the centre-half when the opposition attempted to sling the ball in the box.

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Etienne Capoue 7
The laconic Frenchman showed what just what he can do in front of goal when he lashed a shot, with his weaker foot, into the top corner of Nathan Gartside’s net pre-match but he’s yet to translate that sharp shooting into a game. He is still to get off the mark and will not have too many better opportunities than the one Almen Abdi presented with him in the first half. Recovered from sending his first pass, intended for Jose Manuel Jurado, out of play to show off his range of passing was again impressive in what was a solid if unspectacular performance, typified by a muscular aerial challenge he won in the first half with Ola Toivonen.

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Almen Abdi 7.5
His immaculate pass to Nyom for the only goal of the game in the fourth minute was what really created the opening goal. Stationed on the right, he drifted inside looking for work and must have been Watford’s best performer in terms of pass completion. What Quique Sanchez Flores will have loved about Abdi was his diligence to the defensive side of the game. One fantastic recovery tackle on Watmore in the box when Cathcart was beaten and a second-half header in his own box showed exactly how Abdi, unlike Matej Vydra and Fernando Forestieri, has been willing to mix elegance with endeavour.

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Jose Manuel Jurado 7
Roaming infield even more than Abdi and this occasionally  created problems as Abdi was left exposed. Jurado even ended up with Abdi on the on the right of midfield at one point, leaving a gaping hole on the left which Sunderland, thankfully, did not exploit. Jurado is getting fitter and more Premier League ready by the week and this should provide the platform to show his obvious attacking qualities. There were plenty of plaudits for him on social media at half-time of this game and he would have well and truly won over the sceptics had his shot found the back of the net and not cannoned off the post. We still think he is better suited to the No 10 role and it was fascinating to see him gesticulate to Ake to slow things down and then win a cheap free-kick as the clock ticked towards half-time. He’s a clever, canny operator.

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Troy Deeney 7
His run of scoring in consecutive games came to an end, and this was one of his least effective displays, showing why it’s important for Watford to have high-class cover on the bench to legislate for any dip in form or fitness of their striker. He put another serious shift in for his team, demonstrating why only Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane of the Premier League strikers have covered more distance than him so far. Walked off the pitch arm-in-arm with Sanchez Flores, which says a lot about the special bond they have fostered.

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Odion Ighalo 7.5
Could have had a hat-trick and had at least two of his teammates throwing their arms up in frustration when the Nigerian failed to spot they were in a better position. But how can you argue with someone who has ten Premier League goals and 26 in the calendar year?  You wonder what analysis, if any, the opposition do on Watford as John O’Shea, Coates, Jones and Adam Johnson become the latest victims of his trademark scoop on Saturday. He has had better days outside the box and his hold-up play was not his finest but that’s not really what he is judged on.

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Substitutes

Adlene Guedioura 6
A 21-minute cameo is longer than he usually gets, but Guedioura was less impressive than he was last weekend against Norwich. Perhaps overeager to impress, he attempted to backheel the ball to Ake by his own corner flag only to lose possession in a dangerous area. Another attempt at a piece of skill, this time in front of Sunderland’s midfield, also went wrong and allowed the home side to counterattack. He could also have done better to create a better passing option or, at the very least, drag a defender with him and away from Ighalo when the Nigerian broke free late on.

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Ikechi Anya
Sent on for the last 14 minutes to help Watford break with space on the counterattack. Was rightly annoyed when Ighalo ignored him when he was better placed in the box. The energy and regularity with which he warmed up as a substitute was an example to all professionals.

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