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Fulham loanee Alex Kacaniklic impresses as Watford beat Derby County 2-1
A superb opening 15 minutes helped Watford secure a 2-1 victory away to Derby County.
The Hornets took the lead after just eight minutes through Sean Murray and their lead was doubled when Troy Deeney’s deflected shot from distance nestled in the top corner.
Ben Davies’ free kick half an hour into the contest reduced the deficit but there were to be no more goals despite Derby’s best efforts.
Watford made two changes for the match as Nyron Nosworthy, who was ill midweek, returned in place of Dale Bennett and Chris Iwelumo made way for Joe Garner.
Derby, who are two places and two points above the Hornets, made just one change, with Jake Buxton coming in for Gareth Roberts.
The visitors were showing composure when in possession and it paid off in just the eighth minute, as Deeney released Alex Kacaniklic on the left and he burst into the box and to the byline before pulling the ball back to Murray to side foot past Frankie Fielding.
Kacaniklic was finding space on the left and he sent a low drive wide of the far post soon after the opener.
And Watford doubled their lead a quarter of an hour into the contest and again it was Kacaniklic who created the opening. The Fulham loanee drove from deep and although he should have released Murray, he passed to Deeney and the striker’s 20-yard effort took a massive deflection on its way to the top corner.
Derby had not created anything in the opening half an hour but then Ben Davies sent in a free kick from deep on the left flank and whilst the ball was missed by Steven Davies and the defenders – Adrian Mariappa slipped tracking the striker’s run – the ball bounced in the six-yard box and into the top corner.
Neither side created another chance of note until first-half injury time, as both teams started to give the ball away needlessly. Watford conceded a free kick 25 yards from goal but Steven Davies’ effort was straight at Kuszczak and easily held.
Watford’s attacking threat had diminished as the first half went on but they started the second period brightly.
Kacaniklic was again involved and he did well to create space in the box but his right-footed strike went comfortably over the bar.
A moment later and Murray also wasted a chance to test Fielding as the youngster failed to take advantage of an error by Jason Shackell and sliced a shot into the side netting.
Derby were enjoying more of the possession though and from a Ben Davies corner, Shaun Barker headed wide as he attempted to head the ball back across goal.
Barker had another header easily saved on 65 minutes but there wasn’t much quality on show, as both teams quickly handed possession back to the opposition.
There was a worrying moment for the Hornets not long after though as Derby broke with pace and Mariappa just directed Tyson’s low cross over his own bar before Steven Davies arrived.
After a lively start, the game deteriorated in terms of the level of entertainment, and quality on show. Substitute Callum Ball sliced an effort well wide and headed over from a corner but neither side were creating clear-cut chances.
Watford were unable to retain possession as their clearances kept returning and were almost made to pay when Craig Bryson tried his luck from distance. His shot stung the hands of Kuszczak but he was able to parry away from danger.
The midfielder then found himself free in the box soon after but this time he fired his effort over the bar.
Watford were limited to a Kacaniklic free kick into the box which was missed by Iwelumo and in injury time there were tame penalty appeals when Kacaniklic went down easily after his run was stopped by Barker.
The drama wasn’t finished though as deep into injury time, the ball broke to substitute James Bailey and his low drive seemed destined for the bottom corner but Kuszczak make an excellent reflex save to secure all three points for the Hornets.
Derby: Fielding; Buxton, Shackell, Barker, Green; Bryson, B Davies (Ball 76), Carroll (Tyson HT), Hendrick (Bailey 89); Robinson, S Davies.
Subs: Legzdins, Naylor.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Nosworthy, Mariappa, Dickinson; Murray (Buaben 82), Hogg, Eustace, Kacaniklic; Deeney (Taylor 90+2), Garner (Iwelumo 63).
Subs: Loach, Trotta.
Referee: Scott Mathieson.
Attendance: 23,130 (584).
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