These two clubs needed four games to find a winner in the third round of this very competition 27 years ago. However the opportunism and cool finishing of Troy Deeney ensured only 90 minutes was required to separate these two this time round.
Deeney skipped past Rob Elliot and calmly slotted his effort into an empty net just before half-time to score his seventh goal of the season and settle his side’s nerves against the Magpies, who produced a real gutsy, attacking display and can probably count themselves unlucky not to earn a dreaded replay.
Quique Sanchez Flores has made his name in management through his fine record in cup competitions, headlined by Europa League and Super Cup wins, and called upon his experience to guide Watford, who were far from their best, into the fourth-round draw. There will be no mid-season break to Dubai next month for the Hornets.
It was the away side who started the brighter. Poor defending from Craig Cathcart and Jose Holebas early on allowed Daryl Janmaat to coast into the Hornets box and fire straight at Heurehlo Gomes.
Newcastle were making their attacking intent clear in the opening exchanges and forced Gomes to come to Watford’s rescue again, the Brazilian diving at Aleksandar Mitrovic’s feet to deny an almost certain close-range tap in.
At the other end, Obbi Oulare, making his debut start for the first team, was proving to be quite the handful, winning the aerial battles and imposing himself physically on Newcastle’s new-look defensive triumvirate. It was his first taste of competitive senior football since he scored for Club Brugge against Standard Liege at the end of August.
However, it was clear to see that Watford’s main creative powers of Almen Abdi and Etienne Capoue were sorely missed as they failed to link the play between defence and attack throughout the first half. The Hornets were generally sloppy in possession without their smooth-passing midfielders. Another poor pass, this time from Holebas, set Moussa Sissoko’s powerful frame into motion but his impressive run and cut-back was let down by Ayoze Perez’s dismal effort.
Soon after, Ben Watson almost repeated his dead-ball heroics against Manchester City with another outrageous deep free-kick which went past everyone, including Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, only to sail inches wide of the woodwork.
And, although it was Newcastle who were having the better of the first half, Watford showed the benefits of having a potent marksmen to punish the Magpies lack of prolificacy. Deeney couldn’t believe his luck when, a minute before half-time, Cheick Tiote’s kamikaze back pass allowed the Hornets captain to go clean through and drag the ball past Elliot to finish into the empty net.
Sanchez Flores replaced the lively Oulare with Ikechi Anya at the break and moved Jose Manuel Jurado to his favoured No10 role for the first time since the opening day of the season. Steven Berghuis, another player making his first start, joined him on the sidelines soon after as Sanchez Flores added experience as the half wore on in a bid to close the game out. Berghuis had less grounds for complaint at being hauled off than Oulare.
Newcastle picked up where they left off after half-time, dominating possession and could’ve been level within minutes of the restart. Ayoze Perez latched onto Sissoko’s layoff and curled a superb strike just wide with Gomes left motionless. Sissoko was at the heart of things again and almost forged an opening but his deft pass was inches away from seeking out Mitrovic at the back post.
Sanchez Flores’ decision to play with another man, Ikechi Anya, in midfield was justified in the second half as his side grew into the game and controlled more of the possession. Newcastle continued to show menace going forward and Sissoko’s appeal for a penalty was waved away by Roger East after the French midfielder was brought down by Sebastien Prödl.
The away side continued to look for an equaliser and almost took the tie back to St James’ Park but Janmaat, unmarked in acres of space at the back post, couldn’t place his effort past the huge frame of Gomes.
Thanks to the Brazilian, Watford held out for the victory to end a run of two home defeats on the bounce and put their names in the hat for the next round. Fans will probably just be thankful they didn’t have to watch another 90 minutes of this.
Watford: (4-4-2) Gomes, Nyom, Cathcart, Prodl, Holebas; Berghuis (Abdi 63), Watson, Guedioura, Jurado (Ighalo 73); Deeney, Oulare (Anya 45).
Subs not used: Arlaukis, Britos, Ibarbo, Capoue.
Newcastle: (3-5-2) Elliot, Dummett, Coloccini(Lascelles 45), Mbemba; Janmaat, Tiote (De Jong), Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Mbabu(Thauvin 52); Perez, Mitrovic. Subs not used: Darlow, Gouffran, Toney, Sterrey.