Watford let winning position slip as Blackpool claim Vicarage Road points
Watford remain second in the Championship but they were unable to increase the pressure on their promotion rivals after Blackpool came from behind to win 2-1 at Vicarage Road.
Fernando Forestieri and Jonathan Hogg both had opportunities to give the Hornets the lead before Cristian Battocchio deservedly put them in front in the 27th minute with a composed finish.
However, Jonathan Bond was twice called into action to make fine saves from Tom Ince and Kirk Broadfoot, but the Hornets should also have been awarded a penalty just before the interval when Troy Deeney was clearly pulled back in the area.
Blackpool had more of the game after the break but Matthew Briggs missed a fine chance to celebrate his first Hornets start with a goal before Tom Ince levelled for the visitors.
But worse was to come for the hosts two minutes from time when Gary MacKenzie capitalised on a mistake from Jonathan Bond, who let a Tom Ince corner squirm from his grasp, and bundled in the winner.
Apart from the defeat, perhaps the most disappointing aspect for the Hornets was the fact they were only had six goal attempts, suggesting they did most the creativity of the injured Almen Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah.
Gianfranco Zola made four changes to the team which came from behind to beat Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, most of which were, to a greater or lesser extent, enforced - and one was very late in the day.
There were fitness concerns over Joel Ekstrand and Marco Cassetti, while Chalobah, who replaced Hogg at half-time against the Owls and would have been expected to start, was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
This meant Fulham loanee Matthew Briggs made his debut, Mark Yeates came in for his first start since early December, Lloyd Doyley returned after being rested for most of the Wednesday contest, while Tuesday night’s two-goal hero Forestieri was given the nod over Matej Vydra, who was on the bench alongside Cassetti and Ekstrand.
However, the injury situation got worse for the Hornets just before kick off when Almen Abdi sustained a problem in the warm-up. Hogg, who was meant to be on the bench, took his place and made his 100th professional start, while Sean Murray was a late replacement among the substitutes.
Blackpool, who came into the contest without a win in five, made just the one change from their 1-1 draw at Birmingham City last time out, with Matt Derbyshire replacing the injured Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
Despite the pre-match disruption, the Hornets started well, with Briggs looking composed and confident at the back and Anya’s pace suggesting it might again be a beneficial outlet on the right.
But it was the visitors who had the first attempt in the fifth minute when Tom Ince nodded the ball into the path of Derbyshire, who struck an angled right-footed half-volley on the turn which Bond held well.
There was a slightly more anxious moment for the Hornets keeper soon after when he went up to claim a Neal Eardley cross at the back post and dropped the ball under pressure from Derbyshire, but reacted smartly to claim it at the second attempt.
Watford though, spurned a good opportunity to take the lead with their first attack of note in the eighth minute.
Yeates dispossessed Eardley in the centre circle and broke forward, with his side three-on-two, and advanced before slipping in Forestieri on the right side of the area and the Argentine fired across goal and narrowly wide of the far post.
Another fine chance came and went two minutes later when Anya crossed impressively from the right and Hogg arrived late on the edge of the six-yard box and got in front of Deeney with a powerful downward header which went just the wrong side of Matthew Gilks’ left-hand post.
The game then settled down, but with the hosts still keeping possession well, and as the halfway point of the opening period approached they began to up the ante again, winning three corners in quick succession, the third of which led to Daniel Pudil going down in the area under a challenge from Broadfoot but referee Andrew Madley awarded a free-kick to the visitors.
From their next attack in the 27th minute though, the Hornets deservedly took the lead.
Deeney pressurised MacKenzie into a mistake, leaving Blackpool with just one defender back as the Hornets striker advanced before lifting the ball into the path of Battocchio, who had to make up a bit of ground but scored with a lovely first-time dinked finish over Gilks to make it 1-0.
Blackpool hadn’t offered too much of an attacking threat before going behind but in the 30th minute Tom Ince let fly with a right-footed drive from outside the area which Bond had to dive to his right to push away for a corner.
Madley got his yellow card for the first time in the 36th minute when Forestieri was booked for diving after seemingly going down in anticipation of a challenge on the edge of the area.
However, it took a quite superb save from Bond to keep the Hornets in front two minutes later when he leapt high to his left to athletically push away a Broadfoot header following a free-kick. Following the resultant corner, Matt Phillips also had a goal-bound shot blocked.
Watford, and Deeney in particular, had good cause to feel hard done by a minute before the interval when the striker was clearly tugged back by MacKenzie after rolling the defender as he tried to turn and get on the end of Pudil’s flick back into the area from an Anya cross.
That was the last incident of the first half but before the referee could leave the pitch he was confronted by Deeney followed by Derbyshire and Blackpool boss Paul Ince.
The opposition manager decided to make a change at the interval, bringing on Ludovic Sylvestre for Eardley, as his side looked to get back in the game.
The Hornets had the first attempt of the second half six minutes after the restart when Battocchio fired wide of Gilks’ right-hand post from the edge of the area after a combination of Yeates and Briggs had helped work back a deep Yeates cross from the left side of the area.
Blackpool were giving it a go in the opening stages of the second period but while they were knocking it around nicely at times, it was rarely in areas where they could seriously trouble their hosts.
But Watford really should have gone two up on the hour when Nyron Nosworthy did well to keep the ball in play to the right of goal before finding Anya, whose cross was flicked on by Deeney but the touch may have been just enough to put off Briggs, who glanced wide of the target when he had a great chance to cap his debut with a goal.
Blackpool made a second change after 67 minutes when Nathan Delfouneso came on for Derbyshire and a minute later Forestieri made way for Vydra.
The visitors started to knock increasingly on the door following those changes and in the 75th minute they equalised. The Hornets were opened up down their right as the ball was worked to Stephen Crainey and his low cross was flicked inside Bond’s near post by Tom Ince to make it 1-1.
Pudil was replaced by Ekstrand with ten minutes left and then Alex Geijo came on for Anya as the home side sought a big finish.
Deeney did manage to squeeze in a shot as he managed to work a partial opening on the left side of the area, but the shot lacked power and Gilks was able to save comfortably.
Marko Futacs came on for Angel with two minutes left and he arrived on the pitch in time to see his side take the lead in a moment Bond will want to forget quickly.
Blackpool won a corner on the right which Tom Ince took and Bond went up to claim, only to let it squirm from his grasp and MacKenzie was able to bundle the ball over the line to make it 2-1.
Tom Ince fired another opportunity wide in four minutes of injury time but the Hornets again had claims for a penalty when Doyley looked to check back in the area on his right foot and appeared to be tripped. In truth though, the appeals were more from the crowd as Watford’s automatic promotion ambitions suffered a blow.
Watford: Bond; Doyley, Nosworthy, Briggs; Anya (Geijo 85), Battocchio, Yeates, Hogg, Pudil (Ekstrand 80); Deeney, Forestieri (Vydra 68). Not used: Murray, Cassetti, Bonham and Mujangi Bia.
Blackpool: Gilks; Baptiste, Broadfoot, MacKenzie, Crainey; Eardley (Sylvestre 46), Angel (Futacs 88); M Phillips, Ferguson, Ince; Derbyshire (Delfouneso 67). Not used: Grandin, Cathcart, Halstead and Caton.
Bookings: Forestieri for simulation (36).
Referee: Andrew Madley.
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