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Watford and Queens Park Rangers fail to break deadlock at Vicarage Road
Watford remain unbeaten under Beppe Sannino but they had to settle for a point after a goalless draw with Queens Park Rangers at Vicarage Road.
Neither keeper was particularly busy in a relatively low key goalless first half which the visitors had the better of.
The Hornets improved after the break and they created arguably the best chance in the match when Diego Fabbrini forced Rob Green into a smart save after playing a one-two with Troy Deeney.
Sannino made two changes from the side which beat Millwall on Boxing Day, both of which were enforced as Ikechi Anya and Fernando Forestieri were ruled out with groin and knee injuries respectively. Their places were taken by Hector Bellerin and Fabbrini.
Rangers came into the game bidding to avoid a third successive defeat and, interestingly, Harry Redknapp chose a starting line-up without a recognised striker in a 4-3-3 formation.
Joey Barton returned from suspension to captain the visitors while Nedum Onuoha, Yossi Benayoun and Junior Hoilett were also included. Karl Henry and Bobby Zamora dropped to the bench but Clint Hill and Jermaine Jenas were not involved.
The opening stages were relatively sedate, although the visitors had the first attempt in the seventh minute when make-shift striker Niko Kranjcar fired well over from the edge of the area after being found by Hoilett.
Watford’s first promising moment came in the 13th minute when they were awarded a free-kick towards the left angle of the penalty area but Lewis McGugan’s set piece hit the wall.
The midfielder was the given the opportunity to have another crack soon after from a more central position but from further out after Marco Cassetti was fouled. This time his free-kick did get through but it went wide of Green’s right-hand upright.
Kranjcar threatened to lift the game out of its slumber in the 21st minute but he dragged an angled shot wide from the edge of the area and then Fabbrini found McGugan, but he mis-hit a shot on the run from around 20 yards.
Soon after though, Deeney was able to get in between Onuoha and Richard Dunne to get on the end of a Cassetti delivery from the right but the way the ball bounced up meant the striker had to improvise and chest the ball goalwards and Green was able to save with ease.
The visitors had the next attempt in the 27th minute when Kranjcar at least forced Manuel Almunia to go to ground as his shot from the edge of the area went narrowly wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
This sparked a reasonable riposte from the home side as, first, a Fabbrini run into the area was stopped by a superb tackle from Dunne before a Sean Murray shot from inside the D had the sting taken off it by a deflection, although Green still had to dive to his left to save.
Kranjcar went closer at the other end in the 31st minute when a run ended with a right-footed curling effort that bent narrowly wide of Almunia’s left-hand post.
Matt Phillips had the visitors’ next effort six minutes later with a left-footed shot that went wide before Gabriele Angella picked up the game’s first booking in the 39th minute for a foul on Kranjcar.
Almunia needed treatment a minute later when he dived at the feet of Hoilett to prevent him getting on the end of Tom Carroll’s ball in from the left and then Angella was forced into some desperate defending as the ball broke loose in the six-yard area.
The Hornets were living a little dangerously in first-half injury time when they twice allowed crosses from either flank to across right across the six-yard box but no Rangers player was able to get on the end of them.
The visitors started the second half the better but it was the Hornets who had the first attempt when a good interception from Angella fell for Murray, who found Fabbrini. He then gave McGugan the opportunity to run from halfway but with a lack of options either side, the midfielder was forced to try an ambitious attempt and his shot went well over the bar.
Almunia was the first keeper to be seriously tested in the 50th minute when he had to push a stinging Phillips drive behind for a corner. Within two minutes, Green was also forced into a good save to deny Fabbrini after he had played a one-two with Deeney to open up the right side of the Rangers defence.
The Hornets won their first corner of the match in the 58th minute but McGugan’s delivery from the right was headed over by Angella. The set piece arrived after ended after a nice flowing move had ended with Cassetti breaking down the right and threatening to play in a dangerous cross.
Phillips was booked in the 62nd minute for bringing down Fabbrini and then Barton joined his teammate in the book for a foul on George Thorne three minutes later.
Redknapp was the first manager to make a change in the 70th minute, bringing on Andrew Johnson for Carroll and a second soon followed as Gary O’Neil replaced Benayoun.
Fabbrini’s disappointing afternoon was ended in the 75th minute when he was replaced by Javier Acuna and then Redknapp made his third and final substitution by bringing on Armand Traore for Hoilett.
Murray had two attempts from distance in quick succession, the first blocked before another right-footed effort was held by Green.
Acuna saw yellow for a foul on Barton and then an unmarked – and offside – Johnson headed a Phillips cross wide when unmarked in the area.
Cristian Battocchio came on for Murray for the closing stages but neither side was able to create another opening of note.
Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Murray (Battocchio 87), Thorne, McGugan, Bellerin; Fabbrini (Acuna 75), Deeney. Not used: Bond, McEachran, Iriney, O’Nien, Nosworthy.
Queens Park Rangers: Green; Simpson, Onuoha, Dunne, Assou-Ekotto; Carroll (Johnson 70), Barton, Benayoun (O’Neil 73); Phillips, Kranjcar, Hoilett (Traore 78). Not used: Murphy, Henry, Zamora, Sendles-White.
Bookings: Angella for a foul on Kranjcar (39); Phillips for a foul on Fabbrini (62); Barton for a foul on Thorne (65); Acuna for a foul on Barton (81).
Attendance: 16,625 (2,054 away).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
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