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Barnsley loss makes it back-to-back league defeats for very poor Watford
A very poor Watford display got what it deserved at Barnsley as the hosts boosted their survival prospects with a 1-0 win and Gianfranco Zola’s men again missed the opportunity to climb back into the top two.
Watford were shaky at the back, poor in possession and struggled creatively in a very disappointing first-half display and could have no complaints at being behind at the break to a header from early substitute Bobby Hassell.
Despite making changes, the Hornets didn’t improve after the break against the hosts’ well utilised pressing game and one Matej Vydra snap-shot at Luke Steele aside, they never seriously looked like equalising.
With Hull City losing at home to Nottingham Forest, three points would have taken the Hornets back up to second. Instead, they head into the final international break of the season on the back of suffering back-to-back league defeats for the first time since October.
The Tykes though, deserve considerable credit for the manner in which they gained the win. Watford were never allowed to get their passing going as the home side pressed and battled for everything throughout.
Zola made three changes as the Hornets sought to get back on track following last week’s defeat at home to Blackpool. Joel Ekstrand, Marco Cassetti and Vydra were all back in the starting line-up as Daniel Pudil and Fernando Forestieri dropped to a bench that also included the fit-again Fitz Hall and Nathaniel Chalobah, but Matthew Briggs was ruled out through injury.
Barnsley were unchanged from the side which picked up a 2-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion to record their first victory in five attempts in all competitions.
It was the home side who had the first attempt of the afternoon in the second minute when they were awarded a free-kick just over 25 yards out but Tom Kennedy’s left-footed strike cleared the crossbar by a couple of feet.
Watford though, posed a greater threat two minutes later when Cassetti played the ball in to Troy Deeney, who tried to let it run for Vydra but it broke to Jonathan Hogg to find Ikechi Anya in space on the left side of the area. He cut inside and saw his right-footed shot almost deflected through to Deeney, but the ball was scrambled away to Hogg, who returned it goal-bound with his head and keeper Steele managed to scramble it away under pressure from Deeeny.
The Tykes suffered a blow in the sixth minute when right-back Rory Delap was forced to make an early exit through injury and was replaced by Hassell. Generally though, the hosts had made the better start and their pressing game was not allowing the Hornets to get into their usual passing rhythm.
The hosts continued to force the issue and it took some smart defending from Doyley to prevent Jason Scotland having a golden opening before Chris O’Grady crossed from the left and Jim O’Brien tried to head back into the danger zone from beyond the far post but Jonathan Bond was able to gather.
Ekstrand could have few complaints about receiving the game’s first yellow card in the 18th minute for a clear body check on O’Brien. But the booking count was levelled up within four minutes when Hassell was cautioned for a trip on Anya, although referee Tony Bates did play the advantage as the Hornets wide man was able to stay on his feet to keep an attack going before it broke down.
Hassell fired over from distance as the midway point of the opening period passed and then Vydra missed the target at the other end with a snap-shot on the turn after Cassetti laid the ball back to him following a Mark Yeates pass. However, the move had originally been started on the left flank with a searing 60-yard burst from Anya, who took on O’Brien and then Hassell and left them both trailing in his wake.
Bond came to his side’s rescue in the 34th minute with a smart stop to deny Scotland after he had been set clear by Jacob Mellis’ reverse pass. But the home side were to make the most of their next opportunity less than a minute later.
David Flitcroft’s side were awarded a free-kick to the left of centre midway inside the Hornets’ half and Mellis’ delivery towards the far post was thumped home by the head of Hassell to make it 1-0.
Watford had been poor until this point but they almost created an opening two minutes before the interval when Deeney dispossessed David Perkins on halfway and immediately lifted the ball into the path of Vydra, but the on-rushing Steele read the danger and managed to clear just before the Hornets’ top scorer could nick the ball past him.
But it was to be the hosts who had the final opportunity of the half when O’Brien’s cross from the right was headed over by O’Grady as Barnsley deservedly went into the break a goal to the good.
There was no surprise that Zola made a change at the start of the second half, with Chalobah coming on for the disappointing Yeates. Barnsley also made a substitution at the interval, with Chris Dagnall replacing Scotland.
Both sides had early attacking opportunities after the break but it was Bond who was again called into the action in the 53rd minute when he did well to divert O’Grady’s powerful left-footed angled shot over the bar.
Flitcroft played his final card in the 57th minute when Tomasz Cywka came on for Mellis, while Deeney was yellow-carded shortly after for catching Steele with a late raised boot.
The Hornets had still not got into the stride as the hour-mark passed, prompting Zola to turn to his bench as Hogg and Anya made way for Geoffrey Mujangi Bia and Fernando Forestieri.
Both substitutes had shots blocked moments after entering the fray as the Hornets finally sought to get some attacking urgency into their play but their efforts continued to be sporadic, although they were enjoying a greater share of possession and territory.
Perkins saw yellow for a foul on Forestieri in the 70th minute but two minutes later came Watford’s best chance to date when Deeney attempted to flick on Cristian Battocchio’s cross from the right and Scott Wiseman’s attempted clearance fell straight to Vydra on the edge of the area. He connected well enough with a right-footed half-volley but the strike was pretty much straight at Steele.
The card count rose to five in the 75th minute when Wiseman was cautioned after catching Doyley then and then Mujangi Bia and Forestieri both had crossing opportunities from the left side of the Barnsley box but on both occasions their driven efforts were repelled.
The situation was now starting to get a little desperate for the Hornets and they were fortunate it was not game over in the 84th minute when O’Grady released Dagnall through the middle, but the Barnsley striker fired over the bar with only Bond to beat.
O’Grady had an opening of his own four minutes later but he rather toe-poked at the ball from the left side of the area and Bond was able to comfortably save.
Mujangi Bia fired over from long range at the other end but despite there being four minutes of injury time, the Hornets were unable to create another opportunity until the very last minute when a corner from the left was played back into the danger zone by Ekstrand and Deeney nearly seized on Forestieri’s overhead kick before the ball was scrambled behind.
Following the resultant set piece, the ball broke to Battocchio but his shot from outside the area was blocked as the Hornets were beaten for the second match in succession.
Barnsley: Steele; Delap (Hassell 6), Wiseman, Cranie, Kennedy; O’Brien, Etuhu, Perkins, Mellis (Cywka 57); O’Grady, Scotland (Dagnall 46). Not used: Dawson, Alnwick, Harewood and Tunnicliffe.
Watford: Bond; Doyley, Nosworthy, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Battocchio, Yeates (Chalobah 46), Hogg (Mujangi Bia 62), Anya (Forestieri 62); Deeney, Vydra. Not used: Hall, Pudil, Bonham and Geijo.
Bookings: Ekstrand for a foul on O’Brien (18); Hassell for a foul on Anya (22); Deeney for a foul on Steele (59); Perkins for a foul on Forestieri (70); Wiseman for a foul on Doyley (75).
Attendance: 9,076 (1,074 away).
Referee: Tony Bates.