Gianfranco Zola was pleased his “gamble” of making five changes and choosing the attacking option of Ikechi Anya on the left-hand side paid off for Watford this afternoon as they thumped nine-man Leeds United 6-1.
Zola changed his front two and rested Nathaniel Chalobah and Jonathan Hogg at Elland Road as he attempted to provide fresh legs to a team who were playing their third match in eight days.
One of the alterations was playing winger Anya on the left side of midfield due to Daniel Pudil’s suspension, instead of the more defensive-minded Jean-Alain Fanchone.
Zola said: “We took a gamble in the first half because we made some changes to refresh the team and played Ikechi Anya, who is normally a more offensive player.
“Plus Matej Vydra up front and I thought that was the difference because whilst we took some risks at times, our counter-attacking looked dangerous and we could have scored more goals.”
He continued: “I normally try to put a team on the pitch that has a good balance between defence and going forward. I thought this team had a good chance counter-attacking and that worked.”
“Leeds are a good team and because of the nature of their team, it meant we took a risk,” he added.
Watford were leading 1-0 through Matej Vydra when Leeds defender Jason Pearce was given a straight red card for a foul on the forward.
Leeds were still competitive with ten men but they were reduced to nine when midfielder Rudolph Austin was forced off due to a double leg fracture, after the home side had already used all three substitutes.
Watford then took control and increased their lead to 4-1 during normal time and then rounded off the victory with fine efforts from substitutes Sean Murray and Troy Deeney.
Zola said: “The fact they had an injury gave us a big advantage and I think we used the extra players wisely.
“We played and played to make them come out and then we broke. It proved to work very well for us.”
Leeds boss Neil Warnock claimed Pearce did not deserve to be sent off and said that whilst the tackle was mistimed, the players feet were not “off the ground”. He also claimed the referee was not going to give a red card until he spoke to his assistants, who were “55 yards further away”. Warnock said Leeds were likely to appeal the sending off.
When Zola was asked about the red card, he replied: “It wasn’t a nice tackle but I’m not sure if it was a sending off as I would need to see it again before I say anymore.”
Warnock believes Watford defender Joel Ekstrand should also have been sent off after he conceded the penalty when already on a yellow – with the score 3-0.
The Leeds boss confirmed Austin suffered a double fracture on his leg and said the result and performance were “irrelevant” after hearing the news, which left his players “distraught”.
Click here to read a report of today's memorable victory.