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Lewis McGugan's late penalty ensures Watford close out 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers in the Championship
A Lewis McGugan double including a penalty five minutes from time ensured Watford clinched a deserved 2-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers at Vicarage Road.
The win, the Hornets’ third of the season, moves Gianfranco Zola’s team up to sixth in the Championship and it was no more than the home side deserved thanks to an assertive and inventive second-half display.
An even first period saw Watford take the lead after just 12 minutes thanks to McGugan’s long-range shot but Doncaster hit back almost immediately through Chris Brown to make it 1-1.
The Hornets gradually gained control of the game but despite creating a host of chances in the second half, Rovers keeper Ross Turnbull was defiant until five minutes from time when substitute Sean Murray was brought down in the area and McGugan stepped up to drive home the winner.
Zola rang the changes from Saturday’s draw against Charlton Athletic, bringing six different players into his starting line-up and reverting back to a more familiar 3-5-2 formation.
Lloyd Doyley and Joel Ekstrand came into the back three for Marco Cassetti and Essaid Belkalem while Ikechi Anya started at right wing back.
Cristian Battochio, Connor Smith and Javier Acuna were all handed first league starts of the season as Smith replaced Iriney, who was struggling with a foot injury, while Acuna came in for Fernando Forestieri up front.
It was an even start to the game with both sides keen to move the ball quickly on a greasy pitch. Rovers looked the more comfortable in possession and were twice able to get in behind Watford down the right hand side early on but crosses were blocked at the near post.
From a resulting corner, Rovers were handed the first chance of the match as sloppy marking allowed Bongani Khumalo a free header but the defender was unable to find the target with a glancing effort.
With ten minutes on the clock the game exploded into life. McGugan seized upon a loose ball in midfield and, driving forward, dug out a shot from 20 yards which Turnbull parried but was unable to prevent going into the net.
The lead lasted less than 90 seconds however as Watford allowed Theo Robinson time to shoot from distance and his rasping effort was saved by Manuel Almunia only for Brown to hammer home the rebound.
The next quarter of an hour drifted by with neither team able to establish any real rhythm.
Watford found most joy down the right, where Anya’s direct running at and in behind James Husband caused problems but subsequent balls across the box came to nothing.
In the 35th minute Battochio found space in the area but his close range effort was blocked by the onrushing Turnbull and a long-range shot from the midfielder moments later was easily saved.
Watford certainly finished the half the stronger side but struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities and the score remained level until the break.
The Hornets continued to dominate at the start of the second period but were now playing with a higher tempo and greater fluency.
James Coppinger’s 30-yard drive sailed narrowly over the bar after 51 minutes but it was Watford who were in command. McGugan played higher and wider than in the first 45, leaving it to Smith and Battochio to anchor the midfield as Watford looked to stretch their opponents down the flanks.
Rovers were still in the game though and Brown should arguably have scored his second when he rose above Ekstrand at the back post but couldn’t keep his header down.
Fernando Forestieri was introduced in place of Javier Acuna on the hour mark and his first contribution was to to test the keeper from long range but Turnbull got down well to his left.
Watford were turning the screw though and when Battochio swung in a deep cross to the back post, Daniel Pudil should have scored but was unable to control or get a shot away from the bouncing ball.
The chances were now flowing for the home side as Gabriele Angella’s header from a corner was frantically cleared before Troy Deeney flicked Pudil’s cross over at the near post.
Moments later it was Anya’s turn as the Scot, now playing as an out and out right winger, raced inside Husband but as Anya took the ball wide round the keeper, the angle became too tight and his shot was dragged wide.
Watford no longer needed two holding midfielders and in the 71st minute Zola threw on Sean Murray for Battochio. Murray’s impact was almost instant as he ghosted in behind the Rovers defence and with Watford players queuing up inside, he picked out McGugan whose shot from eight yards was agonisingly blocked.
Pudil tested Turnbull again with a dipping half volley from the outside of the area minutes later but as the Rovers keeper parried the ball away, it increasingly looked like it might be one of those nights for Watford.
Five minutes from time however the Hornets finally got the breakthrough their superiority deserved.
Quick feet from Murray inside the area drew Husband into the tackle and after the referee had pointed to the spot, McGugan stepped up to drive the ball to Turnbull’s left and into the net.
Watford could have added a third late on as Deeney sliced wide from close range but the game was wrapped up and the Hornets closed out a much-needed and well-deserved victory.
Watford: Almunia (capt), Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand, Anya, Battocchio (Murray, 71), McGugan, Smith (Iriney, 87), Pudil, Deeney, Acuna (Forestieri, 60)
Subs: Bond, Belkalem, Forestieri, Murray, Faraoni, Fabbrini, Iriney
Doncaster Rovers: Turnbull, Husband, Jones, Khumalo, Wabara, Coterill (Macheda, 57), Wellens (Furman, 75), Coppinger, Robinson, Brown, Keegan
Subs: Maxted, Quinn, Furman, Duffy, Macheda, McCullough, Bennett
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 13,998 (290 away)
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