Watford kept alive their hopes of a late play-off charge with a 3-1 victory over Ipswich Town to move within five points off sixth spot with a game in hand.
After yesterday’s favourable results, the Hornets knew what they had to do and goals from Albert Riera, Gabriele Angella and Lewis McGugan keeps Beppe Sannino’s side in with a chance of making sixth heading to Queens Park Rangers on Monday.
Chances were at a premium in the first half but Watford led at the break thanks to a moment of class from Riera, receiving the ball on the left and cutting inside before curling home a fine right-footed finish from the edge of the penalty area.
However, the visitors were level within five minutes of the start of the second half when Anthony Wordsworth got in front of Angella to stab home Frank Nouble’s cross from the right.
After Manuel Almunia had superbly tipped a Luke Hyam header onto the bar, Watford won the game with two goals in the space of three minutes.
First Angella capitalised on some poor marking to head home a Daniel Tozser free-kick and then the Hungarian turned supplier again, his attempted cut back falling nicely for McGugan to sweep home.
Sannino made just the one change to the team that was pegged back at the death to a 2-2 draw by Millwall a week ago with Mathias Ranegie returning in place of the injured Ikechi Anya.
Ipswich came into the game seven points ahead of their opponents and seeking a third successive victory following the 2-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers. Boss Mick McCarthy opted to make three changes with Aaron Cresswell, Wordsworth and Nouble coming in for Stephen Hunt, Tyrone Mings, who both dropped to the bench, and Paul Anderson.
The game got off to a relatively even start with Troy Deeney having the first shot of the afternoon blocked in the fourth minute.
Daryl Murphy had the visitors’ first effort three minutes later, turning inside the penalty area before hitting a low left-footed strike that Almunia was always behind.
The Tractor Boys had the better of the opening ten minutes in terms of possession and territory but they could have been caught out when the Hornets broke on the counter, Riera setting Davide Faraoni away and he in turn tried to slip in Ranegie but the threat was ended by two fine defensive challenges from Cresswell.
Almunia had to be alert to repel a Jonny Williams snap-shot at the other end but the game continued to simmer, without catching light until the 21st minute when the Hornets took the lead in fine fashion.
Riera received the ball in the opposition half and initially it looked like he might slip in McGugan on the overlap but with two Tractor Boys defenders backing off, the Spaniard came inside and curled a fine right-footed finish past Dean Gerken from the edge of the area to make it 1-0.
Boosted by that goal, the home side began to take control of proceedings but they had to wait until the 35th minute for their next opportunity when Deeney held off Luke Chambers before feeding McGugan on the left, he swung over a dangerous cross which Cresswell managed to knock behind with Ranegie lurking at the far post.
Almen Abdi also swung over a good ball from the right just before the interval but McGugan’s return from the opposite flank was less impressive as the Hornets ended the opening half a goal to the good.
The visitors hadn’t threatened Almunia’s goal too much in the opening period but they had a chance within 50 seconds of the restart when they attacked down the right and the ball was worked into Nouble, who twisted before firing a rising drive wide of the near post.
The hosts responded with another counter-attacking opportunity after a Murphy shot had been blocked with Deeney coming inside before hitting a right-footed shot from the edge of the area straight at Gerken.
But the Tractor Boys did level within five minutes of the resumption when, following a throw on the right, Nouble crossed towards the near post and Wordsworth got across the front of Angella to stab past Almunia from close range to make it 1-1.
The Hornets then needed a superb challenge from Joel Ekstrand to prevent Murphy having a shooting opportunity from the right side of the area after the Ipswich player had caught Angella in possession.
The Italian centre-half was not having a particularly happy time of it and he was booked for a petulant push on Williams. Soon after though, the Hornets needed a superb save and a slice of good fortune to remain level when Williams swung over a cross from the right and Hyam met it with a bullet header which Alumina brilliantly tipped onto the underside of the bar and the ball bounced down the right side of the line from Watford’s perspective.
It was a valuable save in any event but it’s worth was underlined in the 62nd minute when the Hornets retook the lead.
The hosts were awarded a free-kick midway inside the Ipswich half when Deeney was fouled, Daniel Tozser swept the set-piece into the area where the Tractor Boys’ abject marking was seized on by Angella who nodded down and inside Gerken’s left-hand post to make it 2-1.
And Ipswich barely had time to regroup before they found themselves right up against it as Watford scored a third three minutes later.
Tozser was again the creator, darting between two defenders on the right side of the area before cutting the ball back, it was blocked but the ball sat up perfectly for McGugan to sweep his tenth league goal of the season across Gerken and into the far corner.
The Hornets had a decent opportunity to try and net a fourth in the 70th minute when they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area but Tozser’s effort struck the wall and after the ball rebounded clear, McGugan was booked for an ill-timed sliding challenge on Cole Skuse.
Watford’s tails were up and McGugan came inside off the left and curled a shot wide of the far post from the edge of the area before both sides opted to make their first change in the 80th minute, Cristian Battocchio coming on for Abdi while Paul Green replaced Wordsworth.
Deeney then showed tenacity to chase down a long ball downfield and harass Christophe Berra into conceding possession before battling away to open up a shooting opportunity only to see his effort charged down.
After Tozser had been booked for a foul on Williams, there was a raft of substitutions. Daniel Pudil and Sean Murray came on for Riera and McGugan, while Stephen Hunt and Paul Taylor replaced Hyam and Williams.
Hunt did try an ambitious lob as the game entered five minutes of stoppage time which dropped onto the roof of Almunia’s net and that was the same outcome for a Murray shot from the edge of the area after a Battocchio effort had been blocked.
But Watford were celebrating at the end after extending their remarkable record against the Tractor Boys to just one defeat in 19 matches in all competitions as the song ‘Keeping The Dream Alive’ rang out around Vicarage Road.
Watford: Almunia; Hoban, Ekstrand, Angella; Faraoni, Abdi (Battocchio 80), Tozser, McGugan (Murray 84), Riera (Pudil 83); Deeney, Ranegie. Not used: Bond, Belkalem, Merkel, Doyley.
Ipswich Town: Gerken; Chambers, Berra, Smith, Cresswell; Skuse; Hyam (Hunt 84), Wordsworth (Green 80); Williams (Taylor 84); Murphy, Nouble. Not used: Crowe, Mings, Richardson, Marriott.
Bookings: Angella for a foul on Williams (59); McGugan for a foul on Skuse (70); Tozser for a foul on Williams (83).
Attendance: 16,615 (2,046 away).
Referee: Gary Sutton.