Troy Deeney double undoes good work after Chris McCann equaliser at Vicarage Road.
Malky Mackay’s Latics suffered a third defeat in a row after Watford striker Troy Deeney’s late header sealed the points at Vicarage Road.
Another terrific Chris McCann header had drawn Latics level on the stroke of half time after Deeney opened the scoring midway through the first half and for long periods, Mackay’s men probed hard for a second goal – until finally being undone by The Hornets’ late sting sealed the contest.
Before the match, Watford Honourary Life President Sir Elton John officially opened the new stand named after him at Vicarage Road and addressed the crowd about his own club, but added some great words about the Latics Chairman. He compared his achievements at the club with the progress made at his own beloved Hornets, saying: “I salute Dave Whelan and the marvellous job he has done for his club. I salute him, Wigan Athletic and their fans.”
Mackay, who of course worked with Sir Elton during his time at Watford, also received a warm welcome from the Hornets fans, and went into the game making three changes from the Norwich City game. Don Cowie, Roger Espinoza and skipper Emmerson Boyce replaced Shaun Maloney, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Maynor Figueroa.
James McClean was moved into the striker’s role in a new look forward line, with Espinoza operating on the left side and it was he who had the first effort of the game after just four minutes, blasting into the side netting from well over 20 yards.
At the other end, Gianni Munari shot low from distance but Scott Carson saved as Troy Deeney bore down dangerously.
Carson was tested again from distance on 17 minutes, smothering Daniel Tozser’s daisy-cutter free-kick from outside the box, but was helpless to stop Deeney’s angled drive three minutes later, pouncing onto Ikechi Anya’s header in the box and blasting home to give Watford the lead.
Watford dominated for a spell and looked dangerous with their slick and neat passing game but Latics fought their way back towards the end of the half. Callum McManaman’s trickery on the touchline led to him being fouled near the right side corner flag. Ben Watson’s magnificent delivery found Leon Barnett unmarked eight yards on 37 minutes out but his powerful header was straight at Heurelho Gomes in the Watford net.
Then Latics had two chances in quick succession. Chris McCann’s goal-bound effort was blocked before the ball fell to McClean in the box. He shimmied past his marker to shoot from an angle and Gomes was down quickly to parry it away.
Then came the goal Latics deserved, on the stroke of half-time. Espinoza hooked a high ball into the box which McManaman did excellently to control and earn a corner. McClean swung in a curling ball and McCann – in a repeat of their Sheffield Wednesday double act – smashed in a header from near the penalty spot. Great tonic as the sides went in for the break and fully merited after matching the home side in terms of possession and efforts on goal before the break.
Latics had to withstand early Watford pressure in the second half but hit back with three quick free-kicks into the box before Watson headed another dangerous McClean corner inches over the bar in what would have been a replica of his FA Cup winner.
Latics continued to probe, McClean forcing Gomes into conceding another corner, and then scramble away the resultant ball in – this time delivered by Watson.
Shaun Maloney was introduced on the hour mark in place of McManaman, slotting straight on to the right hand side and immediately fizzed in a dangerous ball.
Tozser had an effort at the other end as Watford broke away but it was well wide of Carson’s upright. Then Latics came back through first McClean, then Perch, who both put in crosses from the right, both scrambled clear. Barnett’s headed backpass could have been dangerous as Watford then threatened, forcing Carson into racing to the edge of the box to clear, catching Deeney as he did – but no foul said the referee.
Back came Latics once more but McClean’s corner was cleared, then Watford swung in a dangerous free-kick through Tozser and it was Latics’ turn to bundle it away.
All the good work was undone by another Watford counter-attack in the 82nd minute, the same two players combining to make the breakthrough. Despite running half the length of the field, Espinoza was unable to prevent Anya from crossing on the right hand side and Deeney, powering late into the box at the far post, headed in his second of the afternoon.
Andy Delort replaced Espinoza as Latics searched for a second equaliser but Watford held on to claim the points.