Watford return to winning ways as Miguel Britos adds to Sunderland’s woes
Home team scorers Miguel Britos 59
David Moyes’s Sunderland took another trudging step towards relegation in a match that was close but not close enough and left Watford feeling calmer about their prospects of playing in the division next season.
A back-post header from centre-half Miguel Britos, coming from one of Watford’s 13 corners in the game, proved enough to earn Walter Mazzarri a win, and there were cries of jubilation from the home players at the final whistle. Sunderland, meanwhile, were literally left on their knees.
With an ill Troy Deeney only fit enough for the bench and, on the pitch, a back four followed by a midfield five, this was an unfamiliar looking Watford side, and it was perhaps not surprising to find the visitors settling more quickly into the match. During the opening 10 minutes Jack Rodwell had an effort deflected on to the roof of the net and Adnan Januzaj a cross-shot turned round the post superbly by Heurelho Gomes before Watford made a meaningful contribution.
The hosts then punched back, forcing a double save of their own in the 11th minute as Étienne Capoue’s forceful breakaway ended with first M’Baye Niang, and then Abdoulaye Doucouré, having long-range shots saved by Jordan Pickford – the second a particularly impressive stop low to his right. In the 20th minute, Deeney’s replacement, Stefano Okaka, should have done better than head Capoue’s cross over from six yards out.
The first half continued as an end-to-end slug fest, with half the opportunities well-earned, the other given away. In the 42nd minute, Watford were forced to withdraw Younès Kaboul because of injury and Sunderland came inches away from opening the scoring after the restart; Januzaj’s long-range effort was deflected by Britos and bobbled inches past the post.
The visitors then made a miserable fist of the resulting corner and Watford’s Pickford had to make another cool stop from Niang.
The game went into half-time finely poised and evenly matched, but in the second half Watford slowly ground their way on top. Defoe took a knock that took him minutes to shake off and left the visitors with even less of an outlet. Mazzarri brought off the reliable Nordin Amrabat and replaced him with the raw pace and power of Isaac Success. The Hornets kept upping the corner count and, after Success had his volleyed effort deflected over on the hour mark, Watford finally opened the scoring.
It was Tom Cleverley who took the corner, and his ball found the immovable object of Okaka on the penalty spot. His header was powerful, but somehow it was deflected on to the bar and out again, into a crowded penalty area. From there, Capoue found the composure to pick a header out to the far post, where Britos arrived to finish the game of head tennis by leaping over two defenders and smashing the ball into the roof of the net.
Moyes withdrew Darron Gibson for Didier N’Dong, and then Januzaj for Wahbi Khazri. A packed Sunderland end booed the Belgian and cheered the Algerian, so crucial to the Wearsiders’ escape from relegation last year. Watford, however, were looking more menacing with Success on the pitch and he should have doubled the lead in the 63rd minute, but was denied in a one-on-one by Pickford’s trailing leg.
With five minutes remaining, Fabio Borini crafted Sunderland’s best effort at an equaliser, getting real power and placement on a 25-yard shot, only to see Gomes equal to it. But in truth, as in so many matches this season, once the visitors' fragile confidence had been punctured, they never looked like they believed they had a chance.