WATFORD 2, DERBY COUNTY 1
By Omar Moore
February 19, 2021
Third-place Watford put pressure on the top two teams in the English Football League Championship to move within four points of leaders Norwich City and level on points with second-place Brentford after their 2-1 triumph over Derby County at Vicarage Road tonight. The important victory for the Hornets gave them a third consecutive league win and their first-ever league double over Derby.
Watford now have 15 games left in the hunt for automatic promotion back to the Premier League, a target well in sight after a great first half performance tonight. The home side also had a strong first 20 second-half minutes. Yet Watford had to hold on for dear life during a nervy final ten minutes as Wayne Rooney’s side pushed forward for an equalizer after an own goal by Hornets defender William Troost-Ekong gave Derby a lifeline.
Despite the late drama and anxiety the game was decided in the first half. Derby were stung within three minutes by goals from Joao Pedro (19th minute) and Will Hughes (21st minute) that saw Watford gain full control of the match. A clever back-foot flick past Derby keeper David Marshall gave Joao Pedro his second goal in three days. A strike across goal from man of the match Will Hughes from a poorly-cleared corner by Rams defenders nestled into the bottom right corner of the net, doubling Watford’s lead. Hughes celebrated in muted fashion after scoring his first goal against Derby, for whom he played for most of his footballing career before moving to Watford in 2017.
Watford enjoyed the first half, dominating an ineffective Derby side that had been in a rich vein of form under new manager Rooney, who has energized the team and given them more of an identity and purpose. In the second half the Hornets should have had a third goal but Joao Pedro and a notably good Nathaniel Chalobah narrowly missed out on toe-poking home some excellent crosses from Ken Sema and Ismaila Sarr, the latter particularly lethal on the right side of an attacking front-three. Watford’s attack seldom relented throughout the entire match, and their passing in the final third was the best it had been in many a match. Watford manager Xisco Munoz has brought a fluidity and dynamism to Watford’s attack, and it showed tonight.
For all of Watford’s control of a first half in which Derby hadn’t had a single shot on target, things got tense for the Hornets late in the second half after a 77th minute own goal by Watford defender Troost-Ekong, who headed up and into his own net after a ball crossed in from the impressive Nathan Byrne, the Derby man whose dangerous and effective set pieces from corners caused Watford a lot of trouble and anxiety. Late on, Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann had to make an outstanding save from one of Byrne’s crosses that hit the crossbar, a ball that Bachmann somehow got hands on to push and keep out of the goal. Derby continued to threaten right up to the last minute and Watford supporters’ squeaky bums were writhing in stereo until the referee’s final whistle.
WATFORD (out of 10): Bachmann 7, Masina 7, Cathcart 7, Troost-Ekong 7, Femenia 8, Chalobah 8, Hughes 9, Cleverley 8, Sarr 8, Sema 7, Joao Pedro 7.
Substitutes: Gosling 7, Wilmot 7, Zinckernagel 6.
Derby (out of 10): Marshall 6, Byrne 9, Wisdom 6, Edmundson 7, Buchanan 6, Roberts 6, Bird 7, Shinnie 7, Waghorn 5, Kazim-Richards 6, Knight 7.
Substitutions: Jozwiak 7, Gregory 6, Sibley 7.
Referee (out of 10): Tim Robinson 8.
Photo: Will Hughes holds Watford captain Tom Cleverley aloft during muted celebrations of his first goal against his former club and Watford’s second and decisive goal of the night that proved to be enough to beat Derby County at Vicarage Road, Watford on Friday night. (Photo: BT.com)