When Watford desperately needed their captain to deliver he stepped up. And then some. Defeat to already relegated ten-man Aston Villa would’ve been embarrassing for the Hornets. A draw wouldn’t have been much better. But in the space of three thrilling minutes, Troy Deeney turned a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory. Quique Sanchez Flores owes the striker a very, very big drink.
Deeney left the Vicarage Road pitch with his chest puffed out. As a boyhood Birmingham City fan, you doubt whether the striker has ever taken more pleasure from a goal at that end of the ground.
His late double completely changed the atmosphere at Vicarage Road. It was, however, Steven Berghuis, in particular, and Nordin Amrabat who changed the momentum once they came on, adding some much-needed natural width and directness. They got Sanchez Flores out of jail.
Watford, despite their win, were largely outplayed by Villa across the 90 minutes. The Hornets had spells of possession but lacked the pace needed to open up the visitors’ defence, an issue exacerbated by the selection of Almen Abdi and Jose Manuel Jurado as wide midfielders for the second successive match.
Ben Watson, who has been played in his rightful position all season, did rattle the crossbar with a thumping volley from 20 yards, but it was a fleeting moment of excitement. Villa, who had only claimed 16 points prior to kick-off, started to show signs of life midway through the half.
Jordan Ayew fired over from distance and the travelling supporters celebrated as if they’d scored. Moments later they cheered for real. Ashley Westwood delivered a corner, Ciaran Clarke got in front of Craig Cathcart to head home.
Watford’s fans became disgruntled. Their side was too ponderous in possession. There was no cutting edge. Villa then struck the post through Ayew, a smattering of boos emanated from the Hornets supporters.
You sensed more would accompany the half-time whistle but, as the game ticked into the 45th minute, Abdi won a free-kick on the edge of the Villa area, stepped up and whipped his shot over the wall and into the bottom corner. The Hornets were level.
It was a clean slate for Watford to work from in the second half. Unfortunately, it took Villa just three minutes to again make it a very difficult afternoon for the Hornets.
Ayew collected the ball, exchanged passes with former Watford target Rudy Gestede and fired into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
It was an excellent goal from the visitors, who should’ve had a third when a counter attack eventually ended with Gestede free in Watford’s penalty area but he fired over.
Watford needed to make a change. Sanchez Flores obliged nine minutes after the restart. He hooked Juan Carlos Paredes, who the Hornets fans cheered off the field, and brought on Steven Berghuis. Abdi, yes Abdi, moved to right-back.
Villa remained the better side and Kevin Toner headed presentable chance wide. There was another smattering of boos.
Watford needed a lifeline. With 16 minutes to play, they had one. A Watford counter attack led to Ben Watson putting Ikechi Anya through on goal. Aly Cissokho came over to cover and tackled the makeshift full-back. He won the ball but caught Anya. It was a fair challenge. Yet referee Anthony Taylor awarded a free-kick and sent off the Villa defender.
Watford had quarter of an hour to respond. The minutes ticked down. Hornets’ fans frustrations grew.
But then, in the 89th minute, Berghuis, who looked sharp and was named the sponsors’ man-of-the-match, whipped in a cross and Deeney glanced the ball home.
Five minutes were added. Watford’s fans roared. Moments later, they erupted in celebration. A cross into the Villa penalty area wasn’t cleared. It fell to Deeney and he side-footed a shot into the bottom corner. Watford had won. But they barely deserved it. They are now mathematically safe. Finally. Boy, have they have made heavy weather of it.
Watford: Gomes; Paredes (Berghuis 56), Cathcart, Britos, Anya; Abdi, Suarez, Watson, Jurado (Amrabat 70); Deeney, Ighalo. Not used: Pantilimon, Nyom, Prödl, Ake, Guedioura.
Aston Villa: Bunn, Hutton, Toner, Clark, Lescott, Cissokho, Bacuna, Westwood, Gana (Sinclair 88), Ayew (Sanchez 78), Gestede. Not used: Guzan, Richards, Sinclair, Veretout, Gil, Grealish.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Yellow cards: Bunn, Berghuis, Abdi.
Red cards: Cissokho.