English Premiership Match Report: Watford 0-1 Stoke [Video Highlight]


Watford 0-1 Stoke
Heurelho Gomes, on the ground, watches the ball cross the line as the Watford goalkeeper’s own goal gave Stoke a 1-0 win. Photograph: Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images

In today's sport news headline, the frustration for Watford was less that they played badly, more that they failed to play at all. Too many of Walter Mazzarri’s players looked less than enamoured with the idea of a midday kick-off on a cold day in Hertfordshire and while they might have got away with such inertia if Stoke City had turned up with a similarly slack attitude, the visitors punished them with a professional, resolute display.

Stoke were good value for their first victory since 31 October, playing with greater imagination than their opponents, creating the clearer openings and claiming the points from a largely forgettable match thanks to an own goal from Heurelho Gomes. Watford, who lost Miguel Britos to a late red card, could not argue with the disgruntled reaction from their supporters after the final whistle.

Conscious of Watford’s blistering start in their victory over Leicester City last weekend, Stoke were alert from the first whistle. Pinning Watford back with a high press, they forced the hosts to make sloppy errors in dangerous areas and almost took an early lead when Xherdan Shaqiri’s free-kick fell to Bruno Martins Indi. The Dutch centre-back struck his shot too close to Gomes, however, and the Watford goalkeeper punched away a subsequent effort from Shaqiri.

Giannelli Imbula was the next to threaten for Stoke, driving through the middle and bending a shot inches past the left post. Gomes was relieved to see the ball dip wide, but Imbula’s unchallenged dribble was an early sign for Mazzarri that his midfield was being overrun.

Stoke appeared to have the measure of Watford’s 3-4-3 system, dominating possession and allowing their opponents few clear sights of goal. Troy Deeney, Nordin Amrabat and Roberto Pereyra were peripheral figures and Stoke were comfortable despite the absence of Ryan Shawcross.

The excellent Martins Indi rose to the occasion in the absence of Mark Hughes’s defensive leader and captain, while Marc Muniesa delivered a quietly impressive performance.

Watford’s lethargy was encapsulated by the moment when Christian Kabasele apparently forgot that there was a chance he might have to participate in a football match at some point during the afternoon. Younès Kaboul went down with an injury, signalled that he could not continue and Watford tried to make a quick change. Sitting on the bench, though, Kabasele was not ready and Watford were forced to continue with 10 men for a couple of minutes.

Mazzarri looked bemused, a PE teacher trying and failing to understand how his pupil could have left his kit at home. A minute more and Kabasele would have been doing laps of the pitch in his underpants, but he eventually emerged to ironic cheers. Then, hoping to redeem himself, the Belgian defender chopped Marko Arnautovic down.

Eight minutes after Kabasele’s inauspicious arrival, Stoke scored an insultingly simple goal. Shaqiri’s corner from the right found Charlie Adam, who lost Valon Behrami and headed against the inside of the right post from six yards. The rebound hit the unfortunate Gomes before rolling over the line.

Recognising that his side needed fresh ideas, Mazzarri brought on Odion Ighalo in the 56th minute and moved him next to Deeney. Yet Ighalo has not scored for almost three months and although Watford turned the game into a physical scrap as the minutes ticked away, with Deeney sending a late header over, their hopes of an equaliser drifted away when Britos picked up a second booking for a cynical foul on Shaqiri.
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