Watford come from behind to beat Leicester City
Watford’s resolve and character overcame a searching examination from big-spending Leicester City - with a late contribution from the officials - as Sean Dyche’s men claimed a notable 3-2 victory at Vicarage Road to continue their push towards mid-table.
The Hornets had been under a period of significant pressure in the second half when replacement Craig Forsyth fired home what turned out to be a fine winner from the edge of the penalty area with ten minutes remaining.
There had already been plenty of drama following a four-goal first half and several other good chances but there was to be one last twist as referee David Webb, on the advice of his assistant, inexplicably sent off Lloyd Doyley in injury time.
Earlier, Adrian Mariappa had headed the hosts into a fifth-lead before David Nugent turned the game on its head with two long-range efforts in quick succession – the second a particularly fine goal – but Sean Murray ensured Watford went into the break with parity restored by netting his first senior goal courtesy of a deflected free-kick.
Dyche was forced to make his first change to the starting line-up for four matches as a hamstring problem ruled out Troy Deeney. That meant Chris Iwelumo came in for his first start since the 2-1 win at Ipswich Town on December 3, with Forsyth taking his place on the bench.
The Hornets sought to make the early running against a Foxes side unchanged following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff City – and it took them until just the fifth minute to make the breakthrough.
Joe Garner, who made the initial inroads with a deft flick that briefly put him clear, was rewarded for his perseverance when he was fouled to the left side of the penalty area. Murray, not for the first time in his brief first-team career, showed his ability at set pieces and clipped the ball into the near post where Mariappa flicked a fine header inside Kasper Schmeichel’s near post to make it 1-0.
The Hornets then won two corners in immediate succession, the second of which saw Garner mis-hit a right-footed half-volley on the turn through to Schmeichel, but in the 11th minute – and somewhat out of the blue – the visitors were level.
There didn’t seem to be too much danger when Nugent picked up the ball on the left side of the penalty area but he was allowed to come inside and strike a right-footed shot that Scott Loach, who was possibly unsighted, was unable to get across to.
There were more defensive alarm bells ringing for the hosts in the 16th minute when Leicester were awarded a free-kick near the edge of the area but dead-ball specialist Paul Gallagher was only able to hit the wall.
But the rollercoaster start to the game almost took another twist, this time in Watford’s favour a minute later.
Iwelumo, who had made an encouraging start to the game, won another flick on from Lloyd Doyley’s long throw from the left and the ball was half-cleared to Jonathan Hogg, whose shot from the edge of the area broke for Alex Kacaniklic in the six-yard box. But with Schmeichel bearing down on him, the Fulham loanee went for power, rather than placement, and put the ball narrowly over.
Instead of being 2-1 in front, the Hornets found themselves 2-1 behind moments later to what was admittedly a superb strike.
Schmeichel struck a precision clearance up to the right side of the penalty area where Jermaine Beckford was able to knock the ball inside to Nugent, who, without breaking stride, let the ball bounce up before hitting an excellent effort with the outside of his right foot that gave Loach no chance as it flew past him.
The match then went through its first relatively quiet spell, only to burst back into life again in the 33rd minute with a moment that one young man will not forget in a hurry.
Watford were awarded a free-kick at least 25 yards out and after the defender who committed the offence, Matt Mills, had been booked for complaining too vociferously, Murray struck a low set piece that was deflected past the helpless Schmeichel to make it 2-2 and give the teenager his first senior goal.
After former Watford loanee Danny Drinkwater had fired over from outside the box, Murray chanced his arm again, initially shaping to look for an option on the right side of the area before checking back onto his left foot and curling an effort wide of the far post.
Nigel Pearson had been preparing to bring on Neil Danns as the first half came to a close and he duly entered the fray as a replacement for Drinkwater after the restart. Lee Peltier also made way for Wes Morgan but Dyche also made a change, presumably due to injury, with Forsyth coming on for Murray.
After a scrappy start to the second period, Watford almost took the lead in the 53rd minute when Forsyth broke down the left before clipping the ball back inside where Morgan tried to head clear. Garner though, had intelligently dropped back into space on the edge of the area and after chesting the ball down, he struck a right-footed half-volley narrowly wide of Schmeichel’s right-hand post.
If the Hornets could have scored a third with that opportunity, the Foxes should have netted a third soon after when Sean St Ledger was able to cross from the byline and the unmarked Beckford looked certain to hit the target, only to send a diving header badly wide of the near post.
The Leicester striker had another effort in the 58th minute, prodding a right-footed shot goalwards that Loach was able to parry back out and Nyron Nosworthy cleared, before Paul Konchesky picked up the game’s second yellow card for a foul from behind on Kacaniklic.
The hosts were nearly punished in the 70th minute when Lee Hodson wanted too much time to clear his lines from inside his own area and was dispossessed by Gallagher, who turned inside before striking an angled drive that Loach had to push around his near post. From the resultant corner though, Morgan was somehow allowed to bend down amid numerous legs and get in a low header that drifted narrowly wide.
Leicester’s tails were up at this point, with the Hornets boxed into their half for a fairly prolonged period as they struggled to retain possession for any length of time. However, they almost gained a thrilling respite to the pressure in the 78th minute when Kacaniklic broke forward before laying the ball inside to John Eustace, who weighed up his options before striking a lovely chip that Schmeichel had to push over his own bar.
The son of one of the all-time goalkeeping greats was not to be so fortunate next time though.
Eustace was again involved in the 80th minute, this time keeping possession and laying the ball off to his left where Forsyth advanced with a couple of touches before striking a fine left-footed finish past Schmeichel from the edge of the area to once again put the Hornets back in front.
Garner then made way for Prince Buaben before former Luton Town man Steve Howard arrived to the predictable chorus of boos when he came on for Lloyd Dyer.
It looked like the Hornets were safe as the game entered injury time but it had been that type of night where it shouldn’t have been a surprise there was to be one last dramatic twist – but what happened had to be seen to be believed.
The incident arose from a route one ball into the penalty area that led to Beckford stumbling over in the box. Much to most observer’s surprise though, the linesman beaneth the Rous Stand was flagging for a free-kick.
If that was baffling enough, the subsequent decision to send off Doyley bordered on the inexplicable. One can only assume the left-back was red carded for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity – although if anyone committed a foul the suggestion was it was Mariappa – but the controversy didn’t end there.
Dyche decided to take off Kacaniklic but before replacement Carl Dickinson had been allowed to take up his position, Gallagher struck the free-kick into the wall and Danns fired the rebound over.
The Watford boss was fuming but those emotions were soon replaced by a clenched first as he celebrated arguably his side’s best win of the campaign to date.
Watford: Loach; Hodson, Nosworthy, Mariappa, Doyley; Murray (Forsyth 46), Hogg, Eustace, Kacaniklic (Dickinson 90); Garner (Buaben 83), Iwelumo. Not used: Yeates and Gilmartin.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; Peltier (Morgan 46), Mills, St Ledger, Konchesky; Gallagher, Wellens, Drinkwater (Danns 46), Dyer (Howard 85); Nugent, Beckford. Not used: Marshall and Logan.
Bookings: Mills for dissent (32); Konchesky for a foul on Kacaniklic (62); Doyley for a foul on Beckford – sent off (90).
Referee: David Webb.