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Watford lose fifth straight league game at Vicarage Road to Sheffield Wednesday
It is 23 years since Vicarage Road has seen anything comparable but that is how far you have to go back to find the last time Watford lost five consecutive home league games following their 1-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon.
The only goal of the game came midway through the first half when Connor Wickham fired home a free-kick from 20 yards but the rest of the contest was all too familiar from the home side in their own back yard.
The Hornets had plenty of possession but as the game wore on their attacks became increasingly desperate and bereft of ideas as they struggled to break through the Owls’ organised ranks.
That said, Fernando Forestieri should still have equalised at the death as Wednesday celebrated their first away win of the season but the grim facts are this was Watford’s ninth game without a win and they have now failed to score in their last four home outings.
Gianfranco Zola made three changes to the team which started last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Leeds United as his side sought to end their run of four straight home defeats.
Fitz Hall made his first start since re-signing for the club in place of the suspended Joel Ekstrand, Marco Cassetti came in for Daniel Pudil at left-back and Lewis McGugan dropped to the bench in favour of Sean Murray.
Manuel Almunia hasd to settle for a place among the replacements after his illness and injury problems and there was more encouraging fitness news among the substitutes with the return of Gabriele Angella.
Caretaker boss Stuart Gray also made three changes from the Wednesday team that went down to a 1-0 defeat against Nottingham Forest last time out.
In came Reda Johnson – one of three Owls players with the same surname in their match-day 18 – Stephen McPhail and Jeremy Helan. Atdhe Nuhiu and Seyi Olofinjana both dropped to the bench but Joe Mattock was not involved.
The match got off to a relatively low key opening but the Hornets almost caught their opponents out with their first attack in the fourth minute.
A George Thorne pass from deep split the Owls rearguard and Ikechi Anya raced through from deep. He was taken to the right of goal by the pace on the ball but he was able to square across the six-yard box but Murray was unable to stretch and reach it and the opportunity went begging.
An even better chance came and went in the eighth minute when, after his first corner was blocked behind, Murray swung over another set-piece from the right but an unmarked Cassetti was unable to keep his header under the crossbar.
The Hornets continued to look the more composed of the two sides but little in the way of goalmouth action then happened until the 20th minute when Nyron Nosworthy’s ball forward from halfway picked out Anya in a central position on the edge of the penalty area. He turned away from Roger Johnson before trying a right-footed curler but his shot went wide of Damian Martinez’s left-hand upright.
Four minutes later though, the Hornets were behind.
The situation arose after Nosworthy was adjudged to have fouled Wickham around 20 yards to the left of centre. Wickham took the free-kick himself and blasted a fine right-footed strike past Jonathan Bond to make it 1-0.
It could easily have got worse for the home side on the half-hour when a mix-up at the back allowed Jacques Maghoma clean through but he was challenged from behind by Nosworthy. But referee Philip Gibbs adjudged that the centre-half had won the ball fairly.
The action soon switched to the other end with Murray bursting forward to almost get on the end of a pass and Anya firing wide before Roger Johnson became the first player to be booked after 32 minutes.
Watford thought they had levelled in the 40th minute when Anya got around the back of the defence on their blind side to convert Troy Deeney’s pass but it was ruled out for what looked to be a tight offside decision.
Another opening came and went for the home side in the last minute of the half when they built down the left before Bellerin came inside off the right to attack through the middle. His lay-off fell for Murray, who stepped inside before hitting a right-footed shot which the Wednesday keeper could only parry back into his area but Anya couldn’t get enough on the follow-up to beat Martinez.
The Hornets were out early for the second half but the home side looked like being forced into a change when Davide Faraoni was injured in a challenge with Helan. The right-back did manage to limp back to the dugouts but he was replaced by Diego Fabbrini, with Bellerin switching to right-back.
It took until the 63rd minute for either side to have their first attempt of the second period when Maghoma saw an effort from outside the area deflected though to Bond.
Cassetti and Cristian Battocchio had efforts blocked in quick succession at the other end as Watford tried to build up a head of steam and then Maghoma was booked for a trip on Fabbrini.
Zola made his second change in the 68th minute as Fernando Forestieri came on for Battocchio before Wickham became the third Wednesday player to be booked for a foul on Cassetti.
Olofinjana came on for McPhail with 15 minutes remaining as the hosts continued to have the majority of the possession but were finding it increasingly difficult to find a way through the Owls, who were content to keep numbers behind the ball.
However, an opening almost materialised in the 76th minute when Fabbrini crossed from the right but Forestieri and Anya rather got in each other’s way going for the delivery and the ball drifted behind.
Zola played his final card with ten minutes remaining when McGugan replaced Hall but the home side were looking increasingly bereft of attacking ideas, despite continuing to dictate the possession.
The opportunity Watford craved looked like it might arrive with six minutes remaining when Murray let fly and his shot was blocked broke for Fabbrini in the box, but his blushes at turning and firing over the top were spared by the linesman’s flag.
Five minutes of injury time afforded the Hornets hope but what happened in last minute of those very much summed up the hosts’ current Vicarage Road struggles.
Forestieri looked odds-on to score a last-gasp equaliser when he was slipped through by Fabbrini and left one-on-one against Martinez and the striker prodded the ball wide of the keeper but also the far post.
Watford: Bond; Faraoni (Fabbrini 51), Nosworthy, Hall (McGugan 81), Cassetti; Bellerin, Battocchio (Forestieri 68), Thorne, Murray, Anya; Deeney. Not used: Almunia, Angella, McEachran, Pudil.
Sheffield Wednesday: Martinez; Palmer, Roger Johnson, Loovens, Reda Johnson; Maghoma (McCabe 78), Palmer, Semedo, McPhail (Olofinjana 75), Helan; Wickham. Not used: Kirkland, J Johnson, Corry, Llera, Nuhiu.
Bookings: Roger Johnson for dissent (32); Maghoma for a foul on Fabbrini (67); Wickham for a foul on Cassetti (70); Helan for a foul (83).
Attendance: 15,476 (1,256 away).
Referee: Philip Gibbs.
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