Gianfranco Zola admitted he was disappointed with Watford’s ball retention this afternoon but stressed “you can’t play fantasy football all the time”.

The Hornets were poor in possession for much of the contest at Vicarage Road but goals from Matej Vydra and Joel Ekstrand in either half helped make it three wins in eight days for the Golden Boys.

Derby applied the pressure in the second period and pulled one back through a controversial penalty by Jamie Ward, but Watford hung on and climbed up to second in the Championship, following Hull City’s 4-1 defeat against Bolton Wanderers.

When asked if he was disappointed with his team’s ball retention, Zola replied: “Yes but it is tough because we can be good at ball retention but the best quality we have is when we go forward in transition and when you are tired, it is tough to do that.

“I tell you it would be hard any way to keep the ball because Derby were so good at applying pressure on the ball, with a lot of players, and it was impossible to hold on to the ball for too long in that area. That is why today was a tough game. It is hard to come out with the ball against this team because they press so well.”

Zola was full of praise for Derby and their manager Nigel Clough, who also returned the favour and wished the Hornets good luck for the rest of the season in his own press conference.

But Zola stressed: “I don’t think Derby deserved a draw because whilst they played well, in the first half, even though we didn’t play well, we always created chances and also in the second half.

“They played well but not enough to deserve a draw in my opinion.”

There were few examples of Watford’s free-flowing football this afternoon but some of their more creative players, notably Almen Abdi, Nathaniel Chalobah and Matej Vydra, all worked tirelessly for the team and were not afraid to do the dirty side of the game.

Zola said: “We need to add that side to our game because you cannot play fantasy football all the time. Sometimes you have to do the job in difficult circumstances and a little bit more is required.

“I saw it today in players like Nathaniel Chalobah who likes to come off the pitch clean all the time. I have seen some good things that make me believe and hope for good things in the future.”

Zola was unhappy, however, with referee Mark Haywood’s decision to award a penalty to Derby for an alleged push.

The Hornets’ head coach joked: “I am asking you what the penalty is for? That would be good to know. Apparently somebody was pushed.”

“If you ask me about the penalty then I would say I am not very happy about it,” Zola continued. “I thought it was a soft one. If that was a penalty then how many penalties do you have to give in the box. But it was given so no complaints.

“I think it made it more difficult for my heart but we came out with three very important points, especially because we were playing against a good team and it was the third game in a week.

“Three games in a week is always tough, especially when you do well in the first two. If you look around the others had problems, so I am delighted, and exhausted.”

He continued: “I think we were getting tired. I think there were eight players out of 11 today that played 90 minutes today, 90 minutes on Tuesday and also last Saturday. When you are tired, things become more difficult. The only nervous one was me though.”

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