Watford 2-1 Derby: Goals from Joao Pedro and Will Hughes send Hornets up to third in the Championship despite late fightback from Wayne Rooney’s side
- The Hornets have the best home form in the league, winning 12 of 16 games
- Watford were 2-0 up but a late William Troost-Ekong own goal set up tense finish
- Derby County upped the pressure late on but couldn’t find an elusive equaliser
Fortress Vicarage Road could prove the decisive factor if Watford make it back to the Premier League.
This was their 12th win from 16 home games this season – more than anyone else in the Championship – and it lifted them level on points with Brentford in the second automatic promotion place.
Joao Pedro and Will Hughes launched the quick one-two to sink Wayne Rooney’s Derby, ending their recent upturn in results that had eased relegation fears.
Watford are up to third in the Championship after beating Derby County 2-0 at Vicarage Road
Watford’s Brazilian forward Joao Pedro (left) gave the Hornets the lead in the first half
Will Hughes doubled Watford’s advantage two minutes later with a fine left-footed strike
The Rams were second best here despite being gifted a late goal back and with their long-awaited Abu Dhabi takeover stalled, it’s proving difficult to shake off the anxieties that have plagued their season.
Having won five of their last six games, this proved a step too far for Rooney’s side. Watford should be pushing for promotion with their talented squad and their strong home form could make all the difference.
They were forced to hang on for dear life as Derby threw everything forward in the dying moments but staggered over the line for another three important points on home turf. You can’t discount them from the automatic promotion places.
An uneventful opening exploded into life when Watford scored twice in the space of two minutes to take a grip on the contest that had hitherto seemed unlikely.
Derby boss Wayne Rooney was left disappointed after two quick-fire goals sunk his side
Rooney’s side pulled one back late in the game after an own goal by William Troost-Ekong
Their 19th-minute opener came from a Derby attack, with Jason Knight eased off the ball a little too softly by Hughes inside the Watford half. Kiko Femenia seized onto the ball, found Ismaila Sarr and continued his run.
Lee Buchanan had a good few yards on Sarr, on his blindside, but the Watford winger’s pace was electric and he raced around the Derby man like a superior sprinter on the bend leg of a relay.
Sarr’s long strides won the duel and his cut-back deflected off Andre Wisdom, struck Pedro largely unknowingly on the foot and beat the scrambling David Marshall.
Not that the 19-year-old Brazilian minded too much, they all count. That goal was Pedro’s eighth of the season and made him Watford’s outright leading scorer this season ahead of Sarr and Troy Deeney.
The Hornets have the best home record in the Championship winning 12 of their 16 games
Watford (4-3-3): Bachmann; Femenia, Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Masina; Cleverley (c), Hughes (Wilmot 76), Chalobah (Gosling 59); Sarr, Pedro, Sema (Zinckernagel 76)
Substitutes not used: Elliot (GK); Ngakia, Lazaar, Gray, Perica, Sierralta
Manager: Xisco Munoz
Scorers: Pedro 19; Hughes 21
Booked: Hughes, Cleverley
Derby County (4-2-3-1): Marshall (c); Byrne, Wisdom, Edmundson, Shinnie (Gregory 58); Buchanan, Bird; Roberts (Jozwiak 58), Knight, Waghorn (Sibley 81); Kazim-Richards
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK); Forsyth, Mengi, Baningime, McDonald, Watson
Manager: Wayne Rooney
Scorer: Troost-Ekong own goal 77
Booked: Buchanan, Byrne
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
Derby had barely restarted when they were hit hard once again. Hughes swung in the corner initially and both George Edmundson and then Martyn Waghorn couldn’t clear properly.
Tom Cleverley won the ball ahead of Patrick Roberts on the edge of the box and Nathaniel Chalobah had the presence of mind to backheel to Hughes.
His left-footed strike nestled just inside the far post, via a slight deflection, and Hughes’ muted celebration against his former club was little consolation for shell-shocked Derby.
There were shades of Watford’s 6-0 thrashing of Bristol City in their last home outing, when they scored four times before the break, and Femenia, getting forward at every opportunity, flashed a cross in that Pedro was inches from converting.
Derby had created little but at least threatened from corner routines. One just before half-time forced Watford keeper Daniel Bachmann to punch backwards over his own bar.
And Colin Kazim-Richards nodded home from the resulting one but was baffled that referee Tim Robinson had disallowed it for a foul.
It transpired Wisdom, initially grappling with Adam Masina in the six-yard box, had blocked Bachmann coming out to claim. It looked harsh to chalk it off, in all honesty.
Derby really needed to score the first goal of the second-half but Watford crafted the first chance and Pedro was stretching when he got on the end of Hughes’ ball over the top, directing his shot straight at Marshall.
The lively Sarr glided in from the right, twisted past Max Bird but blazed wide on his left foot.
So it came out the blue when Derby were gifted a glimmer of hope 13 minutes from time. Nathan Byrne did brilliantly to work space for a cross from the right and as Kazim-Richards stooped the ball deflected off William Troost-Ekong into his own net.
Suddenly Watford had gone from cruising to creaking and Byrne almost scored directly from a viciously inswinging corner, Bachmann just doing enough to claw it out after it struck the woodwork.
‘Wow,’ shouted the keeper after the lucky escape. Marshall came forward for two final corners deep into injury time, the ball pinged back and forth across the six-yard box but Watford clung on.