It’s taken 22 years but Watford are at last able to celebrate a home win over Leeds United after a comfortable 3-0 victory tonight once again rekindled hopes of a late charge for the play-offs.
Having been named in the starting line-up for the first time in more than seven months, Almen Abdi got the Hornets off to their latest flying start in the ninth minute when he headed home an Ikechi Anya cross.
This settled the Hornets down and they continued to be comfortable before doubling their lead in the 32nd minute when Anya turned goalscorer, this time heading in a Faraoni cross.
Leeds offered some more urgency at the start of the second half but the Hornets made sure of a sixth home win in eight unbeaten league games at Vicarage Road when some awful defending from the visitors allowed Troy Deeney to continue his hot streak with the third.
But for a brilliant save from Jack Butland, Deeney would have netted a fourth on the counter-attack but Watford were able to celebrate a first win over the Whites at Vicarage Road since the famous League Cup success over the then English champions in 1992.
The win, coupled with results elsewhere, means the gap to the play-offs is back to seven points with a game in hand. The quest to finish sixth remains a tall order and Watford have to keep on winning, but such is the form of the majority of the teams also trying to achieve the final play-off spot it cannot be ruled out.
Having chosen to leave his line-up largely unchanged for Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley, Beppe Sannino opted to make four changes and all were in midfield.
Undoubtedly the biggest positive was the full return of Abdi, who made his first start since the end of August following his season-long battle with a foot problem. Sean Murray was also back in the starting line-up, as was Faraoni while Albert Riera made his full debut at left-wing back. This meant Anya was back up front, as Lewis McGugan, Mathias Ranegie and Daniel Pudil dropped to the bench while Cristian Battocchio was absent with the serious-looking knee injury he sustained against the Clarets.
Fresh from the news that Massimo Cellino’s takeover of the club had gone through, embattled Leeds boss Brian McDermott made two changes to the side that lost a seventh game in eight at Wigan Athletic at the weekend.
Sam Byram was out through injury while Matt Smith dropped to the bench and their places were taken by Dominic Poleon and Alex Mowatt.
The game got off to a sedate start but the Hornets had the first glimpse of an opening in the fourth minute when Deeney tried to release Anya with a through ball. Although he was pulled back, it ran for Abdi who broke into the area before cutting it back into the middle where Faraoni’s goal-bound strike was blocked by Stephen Warnock.
But five minutes later the Hornets were once again celebrating an early goal – and this was one in particular to warm the hearts of Watford fans everywhere.
Abdi had already starting the game promisingly and he began the move that led to him scoring his first goal since the heartbreaking promotion-denying reverse against the same opposition on the final day of last season, sweeping the ball forward to his left where Anya brought it down and took on and and beat Scott Wootton before crossing and there was the Swiss midfielder to head down and past Butland from the edge of the six-yard area to make it 1-0.
The Hornets continued to look confident, mixing the game up well, before they went into a phase of letting their opponents have most of the possession but not in areas where they could pose any real danger, although Ross McCormack did have a shot from around 20 yards out that was blocked.
Marco Cassetti received the game’s first yellow card in the 28th minute for a late challenge on Michael Tonge as the home side continued to look comfortable, without threatening too often to add to their advantage.
Leeds had their first shot on target in the 31st minute when McCormack tried to catch Manuel Almunia out with an audacious driven lob from all of 40 yards which the Hornets keeper were never troubled by. Within a minute, Sannino’s men were celebrating doubling their lead.
The hosts built down the left with Anya initially suggesting he would cross before feeding the overlapping Riera. His deep centre was recycled to Faraoni on the right side of the area and his cross picked out the head of Anya, who headed down and inside Butland’s near post to make it 2-0 on the night of his 50th start for the Vicarage Road club.
The game then reverted to how it been unfolding before; the visitors having the majority of the possession against a confident Watford side content to keep them at arm’s length and looking to try and exploit any opportunities that came their way as they finished the opening half two goals to the good.
There was no great surprise that McDermott made a change at the start of the second period as Cameron Stewart replaced Mowatt and within 50 seconds of the restart the visitors were offering more of a threat as Poleon cut in off the right before feeding Noel Hunt, who fired wide of Almunia’s near post with an angled drive.
Wotton was booked for a foul on Anya in the 49th minute and soon after Daniel Tozser, who was having another composed game in the heart of midfield, let fly with a 25-yard left-footed piledriver that wasn’t too far off target.
A lapse from Abdi then gave Hunt the opportunity to run at the right side of the Watford defence. He was held up by Gabriele Angella but laid the ball back to Stewart before coming inside but his low right-footed shot was comfortably held by Almunia.
Hunt was booked in the 60th minute but he was very fortunate not to see red after kicking out at Faraoni, who had knocked the ball out of play to enable McCormack to receive treatment as he was lying on the ground on the other side of the pitch beneath the new East Stand.
But any hope Leeds had of a comeback were ended in the 66th minute when they made a complete mess of trying to clear their lines at the back and after the ball fell for Deeney thanks to Abdi’s tenacity, the striker bundled his way past the hapless Wootton before smashing a close-range effort into the roof of the net for goal 22 of his season and his eighth in as many games.
McDermott immediately made a second change as Smith came on for Hunt but there was then a relatively quiet period of play before the next opportunity arose for either side when Almunia had to drop low to his right to keep out an angled Poleon drive. After Watford had regained possession, they broke at speed as Abdi sent Anya racing away on the right, he knocked a first-time ball across the area to Deeney who looked odds-on to net a fourth but was denied by a superb reaction stop by Butland by his near post.
McCormack was replaced by Andy White with nine minutes remaining before Abdi was rightly afforded a standing ovation when he made way for McGugan while Pudil came on for Riera.
McGugan was soon involved in the action, cutting back on his left foot on the right side of the area before hitting a stinging drive that was blocked away before Sannino made his final change as Alexander Merkel came on for Murray for a Hornets side who made it from 20 points from the last available 24 at home.
Watford: Almunia; Angella, Cassetti, Ekstrand; Faraoni, Murray (Merkel 90), Tozser, Abdi (McGugan 85), Riera (Pudil 85); Anya, Deeney. Not used: Bond, Belkalem, Ranegie, Hoban.
Leeds United: Butland, Wootton, Lees, Pearce, Warnock; Brown, Mowatt (Stewart 46); McCormack (White 81), Tonge, Poleon; Hunt (Smith 66). Not used: Cairns, Zaliukas, Pugh, Murphy.
Bookings: Cassetti for a foul on Tonge (28); Wotton for a foul on Anya (49); Hunt for a foul on Faraoni (60); Deeney for over celebrating goal (67).
Attendance: 16,212 (1,789 away).
Referee: Gavin Ward.