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On-loan Swansea City midfielder Stephen Dobbie at the double as Blackpool win at Watford
It was always going to be a big ask but Watford’s outside chances of making the play-offs could be all but over after Blackpool strengthened their hopes of a top-six finish with a 2-0 victory at Vicarage Road to end the home side’s seven-match unbeaten run.
A brace from on-loan Swansea City midfielder Stephen Dobbie, including a second-half penalty, secured the points against a Hornets side that kept plugging away but were well below their best and struggled to create clear-cut openings.
The defeat means the Hornets remain six points outside the play-offs following Brighton & Hove Albion’s 1-0 defeat at Burnley. But with Monday’s opponents, Cardiff City, travelling to the Middlesbrough tomorrow, the gap could be as much as nine if Tony Mowbray’s men win.
On the back of an unbeaten March, three straight victories and no fresh injury concerns, it was no surprise that Sean Dyche kept faith with the same line-up that served the Hornets so well at Leeds United last weekend. There was, however, one alteration on the bench, with Britt Assombalonga returning in place of Craig Forsyth.
By the same token, Ian Holloway also chose to leave well alone following the Seasiders’ impressive 3-0 win over table-topping Southampton. But the visitors were again without Vicarage Road old boy Kevin Phillips, who remained sidelined through injury.
Watford had a half chance inside the opening 50 seconds when Sean Murray lifted the ball forward to Troy Deeney but with the ball bouncing up at an awkward height as he advanced into the area, he chose to try and nod it inside to Chris Iwelumo but it ran out of play.
But it was Holloway’s men who would have taken a sixth-minute lead were it not for a superb Tomasz Kuszczak double save.
Dobbie created the opening with an excellent slide-rule pass and Tom Ince got goalside of Nyron Nosworthy to hit a shot from the left side of the area that the on-loan Manchester United leapt to his left to parry before showing great reactions to get back and claw the ball away as it bounced towards hit net.
Watford forced their first corner of the match four minutes later and after Martin Taylor had headed Mark Yeates’ set-piece from the right up into the area, Iwelumo nodded it back towards the edge of the area where Murray connected well with a right-footed half-volley but he put it a yard over the bar.
Neil Eardley wasn’t too far away with a speculative 25-yard angled drive at the other end that swerved a yard or so wide of Kuszczak’s far post before the Blackpool manager became embroiled in a prolonged verbal exchange with Dyche’s number two, Ian Woan, after claiming John Eustace had used an elbow to commit a foul.
The Blackpool bench were up again in the 18th minute when Iwelumo challenged Angel and this time referee James Linington agreed with their interpretation of events and booked the Hornets striker.
‘Big Chris’ was involved in the action again three minutes later, this time glancing a Murray corner from the right wide of Matthew Gilks’ right-hand post.
But Watford were undone by a moment of real quality in the 25th minute, although questions need to be asked about the manner in which Dobbie was allowed to latch onto the ball some 35 yards and wriggle his way past and beyond three opponents without a challenge of any significance being applied before slotting the ball inside Kuszczak’s near post to give Blackpool a 1-0 lead.
The Seasiders were playing the better football but they were also aided by a foul count that read 9-0 in their favour by the 37th minute.
The hosts finished the opening half strongly though. First, Jonathan Hogg saw a half-volley from the edge of the area deflected narrowly over, next Deeney was unable to generate enough power to seriously test Gilks from his on-target header and then Eustace fizzed a left-footed half-volley from the edge of the area narrowly wide of the far post after Murray’s diagonal ball had been knocked down by Iwelumo.
There was still time in the opening period for the visitors to gain another free-kick after Nosworthy was booked for a foul on Keith Southern, but Watford went into the break with work to do.
The first incident of the second half was, perhaps predictably, a free-kick for the visitors before the Hornets were finally awarded their first in the 52nd minute.
Most of the game had been played in the Blackpool half since the interval but the home side’s first effort of the second period didn’t trouble Gilks, with Hogg dragging a shot wide.
There followed a long delay in play after Gary Taylor-Fletcher came off significantly worse in a collision with Nosworthy and after receiving treatment for a few minutes, left the field on a stretcher, with Barry Ferguson coming on to replace him.
Perhaps unsurprisingly following the stoppage, the game became scrappy, although Neil Eardley did find the back post with a deep cross from the right, with Ince volleying high into the Rookery, before Eustace tried to catch Gilks off his line with an improvised effort that drifted wide.
The Blackpool keeper though, was forced into a save in the 67th minute, getting down at his near post to keep out Yeates’ low drive. But three minutes later, Blackpool were two goals to the good.
The situation arose when Matt Phillips broke clear to latch onto a long clearance out of defence. With Taylor and Nosworthy trying to get back, Phillips laid the ball inside to Ince, who was pushed over Kuszczak. There were no complaints about the award of the penalty and Dobbie confidently sent the Hornets keeper the wrong way to make it 2-0.
Yeates immediately made way for Assombalonga and after Iwelumo had fired wide, Prince Buaben came on for Murray. Holloway also made a change in the 72nd minute, with Lomana LuaLua coming on for Phillips.
Hogg became the third Hornets player to be booked following a foul on Ferguson before Deeney saw a shot deflected wide.
The Watford striker had a better chance with six minutes remaining when he came unmarked to connect with Eustace’s return ball to the back post, but the header was always going to be a looping one and he was unable to direct it inside the far post.
The hosts had another promising situation when Deeney found space on the left and tried to pick out a team-mate in the heart of the penalty area before the ball broke for Buaben, but his off-target effort was blocked.
Although the Hornets did get some joy out of the referee in the second half, the free-kick count still ended 17-4 in Blackpool’s favour by the end of five minutes of injury time.
Watford: Kuszczak; Doyley, Nosworthy, Taylor, Dickinson; Murray (Buaben), Eustace, Hogg, Yeates; (Assombalonga 70) Iwelumo, Deeney. Not used: Loach, Bennett and Garner.
Blackpool: Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Harris; Southern, Angel; Ince, Dobbie (Ormerod), M Phillips (LuaLua 72); Taylor-Fletcher (Ferguson 59). Not used: Crainey and Sylvestre.
Bookings: Iwelumo for a foul on Angel (18); Nosworthy for a foul on Southern (45); Hogg for a foul on Ferguson (74).
Referee: James Linington.