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Last-minute Ipswich Town winner sends Watford to first league defeat of season
Watford’s remarkable unbeaten run against Ipswich Town is over after former Hornets loanee Michael Chopra netted a last-minute winner to hand the Tractor Boys a 1-0 victory at Vicarage Road tonight.
The hosts had gone into the game boasting a 15-game unbeaten record in all competitions against their Suffolk opponents and that looked increasingly destined to be extended by a further match.
But in the last minute of normal time Carlos Edwards was able to get to the by-line and he laid a straightforward chance on a plate for Chopra to end the visitors’ eight-year wait for a victory over their opponents.
The hosts could have few complaints about the outcome, even if it was disappointing to lose so late on. Ipswich were the better side for much of the game as their opponents struggled with their new passing approach, although they did improve as an attacking presence following the second-half introduction of Chris Iwelumo.
Indeed, Almen Abdi and Nyron Nosworthy both spurned fine opportunties to put Watford in front but, by the same token, Chopra should have hit the target before his late decisive contribution.
The Hornets may have started their season with a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Crystal Palace but Gianfranco Zola still opted to make three changes, although one was enforced with skipper John Eustace injured.
The captain’s absence meant Saturday’s match-winner, Matej Vydra, was promoted from the bench, but the other two changes saw Lloyd Doyley and Carl Dickinson drop to the bench. This enabled the fit-again Daniel Pudil to make his debut, while Lee Hodson came in for his first start of the campaign.
The returning Scott Loach was greeted with a broadly warm reception as he made his way to the Rookery End for the first half but the game was scarcely 13 seconds old when Joe Garner went down clutching his head, although he was fine to continue after receiving treatment.
The hosts sought to start at a quick tempo but it was their opponents who nearly took a spectacular lead after three minutes.
Lee Martin latched onto a loose ball in midfield and advanced before hitting a superb dipping effort from 20 yards that was matched by an equally good finger-tip save from Manuel Almunia to concede the first corner of the night.
Loach’s first meaningful involvement in the contest was not impressive, aimlessly punching an out-swinging Pudil cross from the left up in the air but the keeper escaped any further examination as Vydra was penalised for handball as he sought to bring the ball under control.
The Hornets produced some attractive passing moves, and also some moments of edginess at the back when they tried to play out during what was a rather frenetic opening, but it took them until the 19th minute to produce their first attempt of the night – Abdi presenting Loach with a routine stop with a low strike from 20 yards.
Ipswich responded with the last player to score a hat-trick for the Hornets, Chopra, scuffing a shot tamely wide from the edge of the area. They were presented with another chance in the 23rd minute when Sean Murray carelessly gave the ball away to Martin, but he was unable to hit the target with a left-footed effort from 18 yards out.
Watford went even closer to being punished two minutes later when Abdi committed a foul 20 yards from his own goal and a well-worked Tractor Boys free-kick saw Jay Emmanuel-Thomas curl his effort narrowly wide of Almunia’s right-hand upright.
Ipswich were on top at this stage and Nosworthy was forced to concede a corner after some lovely footwork from Emmanuel-Thomas saw him nutmeg Pudil on the right side of the Hornets box.
Massimo Luongo was the next to chance his arm from distance, driving at the home defence before hitting a powerful right-footed effort that flew across Almunia’s goal and wide.
The visitors continued to boss the exchanges, with the Hornets increasingly chasing possession as they struggled to get their foot on the ball, although that did change around the 39-minute mark when they enjoyed a good spell of possession consisting of around 30 passes.
Encouraged by that, Zola’s men began to enjoy some promising attacking play, with Pudil, Vydra and Mark Yeates getting chances to cross from the left but each time the ball was cleared.
Watford would have been looking to build on that good spell at the start of the second half but again it was the visitors who had the first attempt – Emmauel-Thomas cutting in off the right before firing narrowly wide of Almunia’s near post.
The possession exchanges were pretty equal in the first ten minutes of the second half, although Almunia could have been caught unawares by Aaron Cresswell’s driven left-footed snap-shot from 20 yards but he managed to react to punch the ball away for a corner.
Zola was the first manager to decide to make a change, bringing on Iwelumo for Garner in the 57th minute. Fresh from making the 500th appearance of his club career on Saturday, the big striker was soon involved, seeing an attempted shot blocked through to Abdi, whose strike would have tested Loach had it not been for Cresswell throwing himself in the way of the ball.
Watford continued to have the better of it offensively and their next chance came in the 66th minute when Pudil again got forward down the left well and crossed for Vydra, whose shot was deflected wide of the near post.
A rather frustrating evening for the off-colour Murray was ended in the 68th minute when Ikechi Anya became the Hornets second Granada loan debutant of the game. However, the hosts survived a let off moments later when Martin found Chopra in plenty of space with a ball in from the right but the former Newcastle United man volleyed badly wide from eight yards out.
It was Ipswich’s turn to experience a lucky escape in the 75th minute when a Watford long throw from the right flicked off a Tractor Boys defender who was challenging Iwelumo and Tommy Smith then inadvertently headed onto his own bar. The rebound fell for Anya but despite twisting and turning, he was unable to get a shot away.
Paul Jewell made his first change two minutes later, replacing Josh Carson with Jason Scotland, but soon after Pudil saw an on-target effort turned away after a Yeates corner had been partially cleared.
Emmanuel-Thomas then made way for Andy Drury with ten minutes remaining before Abdi missed a great chance to put the Hornets in front, glancing a header badly wide after Pudil had laid the ball back for Yeates to hit a looping cross from the left.
Next, it was Ipswich’s turn to go close as Luongo burst into the box unopposed but Martin Taylor did enough to force the midfielder wide, forcing him to snatch at his shot and he duly fired into the side netting.
Time was starting to run out for both sides but Nosworthy should have at least tested Loach with six minutes remaining but like Abdi before, he badly mistimed a header, this time at the far post, after Yeates had again been the supplier from a free-kick.
Next, Iwelumo did well to shield the ball from the attention of two defenders and lay it back to Vydra, but his shot lacked real power and was straight at Loach.
The goal-scoring openings ebbed back in Ipswich’s favour in the 88th minute when the two substitutes combined – Drury picked out Scotland in space in the area but the shot was right down Almunia’s throat.
But the home side were not to be so fortunate with a minute of normal time left on the clock.
Again the attack originated from the right but this time Edwards was able to get to the by-line and he laid a precise cross on a plate for Chopra to net with a tap-in from inside the six-yard box and put the visitors within touching distance of their first win against Watford since March 2004.
That contribution was to be Chopra’s last as he was immediately replaced by Damien Delaney and Steve Beleck became the Hornets’ third debutant of the game when he came on for Yeates, shortly after he had been booked.
Watford did have one last chance of salvaging an equaliser when a corner broke for Iwelumo in the area but his shot was blocked, as the Hornets' new league season at home got off to a disappointing start.
Watford: Almunia; Hodson, Nosworthy, Taylor, Pudil; Abdi, Hogg, Yeates (Beleck 90); Vydra, Garner (Iwelumo 57), S Murray (Anya 68). Not used: Dickinson, Doyley, Smith and Bond.
Ipswich Town: Loach; Edwards, Smith, Chambers, Cresswell; Emmanuel-Thomas (Drury 80), Luongo, Hyam, Carson (Scotland 77); Martin; Chopra (Delaney 90). Not used: Delaney, Lee-Barrett, Stevenson and R Murray.
Bookings: Yeates for a foul on Luongo (90).
Referee: Roger East.