If Andros Townsend was watching this game in an attempt to weigh up his options as the end of this transfer window looms ever closer, Watford now look a more appealing prospect than the Magpies.
Second-half goals from Odion Ighalo and Craig Cathcart secured Watford’s first ever Premier League double to head ever nearer guaranteed safety and leave Newcastle firmly in the mire. We know who we would join if we were the Tottenham Hotspur winger. Jamaal Lascelles pulled one back to cause a nervy last 20 minutes but the Hornets were worthy winners. Things will have to go drastically wrong if Watford are not in the Premier League this time next season.
After losing their previous four Premier League games, a win was imperative for Quique Sanchez Flores, who once lost five on the spin with Atletico Madrid. Defeat today would’ve resulted in the Hornets worst run of form since the turn of the century and dragged his side back into a relegation dogfight. You can forget that now.
Following defeats at Swansea and Southampton Sanchez Flores opted for a diamond formation, entrusting Jose Manuel Jurado with his favoured central role at the attacking point of the midfield. And, after taking the opening exchanges to adapt to the new system, which almost saw them go behind to Rolando Aarons fizzing half volley, the head coach’s tactical switch paid dividends.
The Hornets moved the ball positively and, with Jurado to the fore, they looked penetrative. After being just about the only Watford player to turn up in South Wales on Monday night, Jurado proved once again why he is the Hornets main creative force. The Spanish playmaker was very effective, constantly dragging his markers out of position and releasing Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo at will. Jurado would’ve had his third assist of the season if Deeney didn’t show a strange lack of confidence to try and square the ball back to him with the goal at his mercy just after the half-hour mark. The captain hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since Boxing Day.
The importance of this game for both sides was evident in the tenacity of the tackling in the first half. Meaty challenges from Jonjo Shelvey on Valon Behrami and Juan Carlos Paredes on Aarons were the ones that made you wince. However, it was a more subtle challenge that could have resulted in a penalty early on for Watford, Nathan Ake hauled down at the back post by Moussa Sissoko following Ben Watson’s corner. The referee waved away the protests.
Etienne Capoue was stationed once again on the right-hand side, but this time with Paredes in front of him. Capoue was sloppy at times but looked closer to his best, surging forward and elegantly linking up with Paredes on numerous occasions, even if he did miss a golden opportunity to open his Watford account after failing to beat Rob Elliot from six yards out.
Newcastle’s 3-4-2-1 formation, similar to the one deployed by Steve McClaren two weeks ago, was once again causing problems. Sissoko got in between Miguel Britos and Ake and combined with Wijnaldum to carve open the Hornets with Mitrovic forcing a smart save from Gomes.
But Watford continued to grow into the game and a minute after half time, the home side made their good early work count. Deeney put Ighalo one on one with Rob Elliot and, just as his strike partner did in the FA Cup two weeks ago, the Nigerian rounded the Newcastle stopper to pass into an empty net. It was his third goal in two league games against the Magpies and his 14th of the season.
Then, ten minutes after the first, Watford made the Vicarage Road crowd breathe easy and doubled their lead. More good work from Deeney and Ighalo in the penalty area made life uncomfortable for the Newcastle back four and the latter’s flick was met by Craig Cathcart who slammed home from close range. Cathcart loves this end of the ground which witnessed his spectacular acrobatic winner against Birmingham City. This one was a scrappy effort but just as important.
Newcastle’s double substitution soon after led to chances for Gouffran and Perez but both made a mess of close-range free headers. Then, completely against the run of play, Newcastle halved the arrears. In the 71st minute an inviting corner from Shelvey found Lascelles who headed well past Heurehlo Gomes from ten yards out.
Capoue and Ighalo both failed to take key chances to kill the game off but for all of Newcastle’s late pressure, the Hornets held on for arguably their biggest victory of the season. Cue much relief.
Watford: Gomes, Paredes, Britos, Cathcart, Ake, Jurado (Abdi 75), Watson, Capoue, Behrami, Ighalo, Deeney (Amrabat 90). Subs not used: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prodl, Guedioura, Anya.
Newcastle: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini (Riviere 88), Lascelles, Mbemba, Sissoko, Shelvey, Saivet (Perez 58), Aarons (Gouffran 58), Wijnaldum, Mitrovic. Subs not used: Darlow, Perez, Thauvin, Taylor, Riviere, Marveaux.