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Cristian Battocchio on target as Watford edge out Wigan Athletic
A late strike from substitute Cristian Battocchio ensured Watford continued their upward momentum with a third straight league win as they edged out Wigan Athletic 1-0 at Vicarage Road.
Decent chances had been at a premium in a relatively low key contest but with eight minutes remaining the midfielder fired home the edge of the penalty area after a Davide Faraoni shot had been blocked.
Having made eight chances for the midweek Capital One Cup extra-time defeat to Norwich City, Gianfranco Zola made the same number again although the starting line-up showed only two adjustments from the side which thumped Barnsley last weekend.
Joel Ekstrand came in for Marco Cassetti, who was not involved, while Daniel Pudil replaced Faraoni, who was on the bench alongside Josh McEachran after his debut was cut short by a back problem on Tuesday night.
Owen Coyle only selected two players who started the 5-0 League Cup defeat at Manchester City and made two changes from the team which beat Ipswich Town last time out in the Championship, with Jordi Gomez and Marc-Antoine Fortune coming in for Jean Beausejour and Callum McManaman.
The visitors had the first attempt inside the opening 90 seconds when James McArthur shot wide of Manuel Almunia’s right-hand post from the edge of the area. But the Hornets were soon getting into their attacking stride, with Forestieri going down under a challenge from Leon Barnett in the 18-yard box but referee Andrew Madley was correct to wave away any penalty appeals.
The home side’s first sight of an opening came when Ikechi Anya’s cross from the right was volleyed back towards goal by Pudil but Forestieri couldn’t get enough on his attempt to turn the ball past Scott Carson.
Lewis McGugan then chanced his arm from a free-kick fully 35 yards out but his effort harmlessly cleared the bar. But in the tenth minute the Hornets spurned a fine chance to take the lead.
McGugan played a fine pass down the left side of the Latics defence to allow Troy Deeney to run in behind and he laid the ball back to Pudil in the heart of the area around eight yards out but he wasn’t able to place his side-footed effort out of the reach of Carson, who dived to his left to save.
Pudil fired wide from 20 yards as the Hornets continued to pose most of the early attacking questions but the hosts were fortunate in the 18th minute when Almunia could only palm a low James McClean cross from the left back into the area where Nick Powell slotted home the rebound, only for the celebrations to be cut short by the linesman’s flag. It looked to be the wrong decision.
Thomas Rogne headed over from the visitors’ first corner of the afternoon but the visitors were forced into an early change in the 24th minute when McManaman replaced the injured Fortune.
The game then went into something of a quiet spell but on the half-hour the visitors were awarded a free-kick in a reasonable position right of centre but Almunia read Gomez’s intentions and saved comfortably.
Gomez had another effort five minutes before the break when he headed a James Perch cross from the left comfortably wide but in the main the game was a little flat and lacking intensity as the first half ended scoreless.
Watford started the second period on the front foot, with Forestieri seeing a shot blocked after Carson had punched a McGugan corner from the left away to the edge of the area and then the corner taker also had a shot from further out blocked.
The Hornets continued to have the better of the possession but after McGugan had dragged a shot wide, Zola turned to Battocchio to try and add some energy from midfield as he replaced Sean Murray.
Iriney received the game’s first caution in the 63rd minute for a foul on Gomez and he was rapidly followed into the notebook by Ben Watson after he felled Anya.
Pudil dragged a shot across goal and wide after being found by Battocchio but anything resembling a decent chance continued to be at a premium.
That was Pudil’s last involvement as he was replaced by Faraoni after 66 minutes but Wigan then had the best opening of the half to date when Powell cut inside and tried a right-footed curler which Almunia palmed away to the left side of the area where McClean turned the rebound back goalwards but the Hornets keeper clung on to the ball.
Forestieri had Watford’s first on-target effort of the half soon after when his shot from outside the area was held by Carson and then McGugan fired over from an acute angle.
Coyle was sprinting from his seat in the 77th minute when he felt Lloyd Doyley had brought down Powell in the area and then Zola played his final hand as Diego Fabbrini came on for Iriney.
But with eight minutes remaining the Hornets made the breakthrough.
The ball was worked to Faraoni on the right side of the area, he tried a shot which was blocked back to the edge of the area where it fell for Battocchio. He was not closed down as he moved forward before striking a right-footed effort which beat the static Carson, who appeared to be unsighted, to make it 1-0.
Emmerson Boyce replaced the injured Rogne with four minutes of normal time remaining and then Fabbrini almost added a second in injury time when his powerful left-footed strike was tipped away by Carson.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand; Anya, Murray (Battocchio 57), Iriney (Fabbrini 79), McGugan, Pudil (Faraoni 66); Forestieri, Deeney. Not used: Bond, Belkalem, McEachran, Acuna.
Wigan Athletic: Carson; Shotton, Rogne (Boyce 87), Barnett, Perch; Gomez, Watson, McArthur, McClean; Powell, Fortune (McManaman 24). Not used: Nicholls, McCann, Espinoza, Beausejour, Dicko.
Bookings: Iriney for a foul on Gomez (63); Watson for a foul on Anya (64).
Attendance: 14,999 (425 away).
Referee: Andrew Madley.