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Substitute Connor Sammon fires Derby County to late win at Watford
Watford’s unbeaten league home record at Vicarage Road is over after Derby County capitalised on some moments of sloppiness from their opponents to win 3-2 this afternoon.
The match got off to a pulsating start with both sides scoring with their first on-target attempts in the opening 12 minutes.
Derby struck first when Jamie Ward headed in a Craig Bryson but their advantage was to last only four minutes as Fernando Forestieri finished well after being put through on goal by Lewis McGugan.
The Hornets went on to be the better side for the majority of the first half but, at times, they were sloppy in possession and this was punished in first-half injury-time when Ward was set up for a simple tap-in.
McGugan got his side level for a second time midway through the second half with a superb 20-yard curler but after surviving one scare when Connor Sammon was put clean through on goal late on, the Rams substitute didn’t let the Hornets off the hook a second time when presented with another excellent opening with two minutes remaining.
Gianfranco Zola was always going to have to make one change after Davide Faraoni received up his fifth yellow card of the season in the win at Huddersfield Town and picked up a one-game ban but he ultimately made four.
There was no great surprise that Lloyd Doyley, who needs one more appearance to move to joint ninth on the Hornets’ all-time list, was only on the bench after being away on World Cup duty with Jamaica and his place went to another player who had been in international action, Essaid Belkalem.
With Faraoni suspended and Ikechi Anya absent with a calf problem, Marco Cassetti reverted to right wing-back, while Iriney replaced Sean Murray in the centre of the park with Josh McEachran taking up a more attacking role.
The final change came up front with Troy Deeney, who was also sidelined with a calf injury, missing his first league game of the season and Zola opted to bring in Diego Fabbrini to partner Forestieri up front.
Derby lost Johnny Russell to a leg fracture in their 3-1 victory against Leeds United last time out and his absence was the only change made by Steve McClaren as 17-year-old Mason Bennett came into a three-pronged forward line. That meant Hornets old boys Craig Forsyth and John Eustace again started for the Rams.
Both sides were content to have some time on the ball in the opening stages but the Hornets spurned a fine chance to take the lead from the game’s first opening in the fifth minute.
After winning the first corner of the afternoon, McGugan took the set piece himself from the left and Belkalem came in unchallenged around the back but headed the ball down and wide of Lee Grant’s left-hand post.
Instead of taking the lead, Watford found themselves behind three minutes later when Bryson did well down the left and sent over a cross and Ward got up above Joel Ekstrand to plant a header into the top corner past the helpless Manuel Almunia.
Worse almost followed within two minutes as Ward whipped in a free-kick from the right and Zak Whitbread and Eustace were both not picked up as they flung themselves at the ball but fortunately for the home side, neither player was able to make contact as the ball flew across the 18-yard box.
Having survived that scare, Watford went up the other end and equalised.
Zola’s men took a free-kick quickly in the centre of the park and McGugan slipped a pass through the Rams rearguard to Forestieri, who timed his run to perfection and dinked the ball past the advancing Grant to score for the second game running to make it 1-1.
The entertaining opening to the match continued with Fabbrini producing some nice work on the right side of the Rams area and his pull back found Ekstrand, but the defender got his left-foot shot all wrong and it went out for a goal kick.
Iriney felt hard done by when he received the game’s first yellow card in the 22nd minute for handball as he attempted to cut out a pass but his team were soon pushing forward again, with McGugan shooting over after being found by Fabbrini.
The Rams were awarded a free-kick in a good position around 22 yards out to the left of centre eight minutes later when Belkalem was adjudged to have fouled Bryson but after a delay while Whitbread received treatment for an injury, Ward wasn’t able to capitalise as his free-kick hit the wall. The Derby centre-half though, was unable to continue and was replaced by Jake Buxton.
The next opening came Watfod’s way soon after when Ekstrand spread the ball out to Cassetti on the right and his cross was met by Daniel Pudil, who got in between two opponents, but was unable to keep his header beneath the bar.
Another chance came and went in the 38th minute when good approach work by McEachran and Forestieri enabled Fabbrini to open up a shooting opportunity on the edge of the area but he fired narrowly wide of Grant’s near post.
But having been the better side for the majority of the first half, the Hornets shot themselves in the foot in first-half stoppage-time when a sloppy pass was seized upon by Chris Martin and he set up Bryson, whose low cross-shot was tapped into the net by Ward to put the Rams 2-1 up at the break.
McClaren made a second change at the start of the second half with Simon Dawkins coming on for his debut in place of Bennett.
And it was the on-loan Tottenham Hotspur youngster who set up the first chance of the second period, running at the defence before laying the ball inside to Bryson and he advanced before shooting wide of Almunia’s near post from 25 yards.
Soon after though, the Hornets had a chance on the counter as Iriney set Fabbrini and Forestieri away two-on-two. The former duly slipped the ball through to the latter as he approached the area but a slight mis-control allowed a challenge to come in and the opportunity went begging.
Derby then had two chances in quick succession, with Dawkins firing over after being found by a quick Ward free-kick before the Rams’ two-goal forward forced Almunia to save a shot from the left side of the area with his legs.
Iriney had been walking something of a tightrope since his booking and he was replaced by Murray in the 55th minute but Belkalem was then booked after catching Martin on the back of his head with an elbow.
The defender was quickly joined in the notebook by Eustace after he upended Forestieri on the edge of the area, although the Hornets forward did go to ground somewhat theatrically. McGugan was unable to make the most of that set piece though, as he fired over.
The outcome was the same soon after when the hosts were awarded another free-kick in a good position after Forsyth had taken out Murray, with a yellow card again awarded.
The pressure on the Derby goal continued with Murray forcing Grant to go to ground to his left to keep out a stinging drive from 20 yards after being fed by Forestieri.
But the equaliser Watford had been threatening did arrive in the 68th minute and it was a beauty.
McGugan received the ball midway inside the Derby half and slipped it to his left to Pudil, who played the ball back to his teammate and the Hornets midfielder took aim before curling a superb 20-yard shot beyond the reach of Grant and into the far corner to make it 2-2.
The momentum was now firmly with the home side and Forestieri and Pudil both came within inches of connecting with a Cassetti cross, although the linesman’s flag was raised, before McGugan fizzed a free-kick from the left side of the area across goal and wide.
McClaren made his final change in the 75th minute with Sammon coming on for Ward and Zola quickly followed suit as Fabbrini made way for Javier Acuna.
Derby had not enjoyed a chance since the opening stages of the second half but they had one when a Bryson corner from the left was flicked over the top by the head of Martin before the yellow card count continued to rise with bookings for Adam Smith and Ekstrand following fouls on Pudil and Bryson respectively.
But after Gabriele Angella had fired wide, Derby had an excellent chance to take the lead when Belkalem failed to deal with a long ball and allowed Sammon clean through on goal but the striker never looked totally confident as he closed in on the target and Almunia was able to save with his legs.
The warning was not heeded though, and with three minutes remaining Will Hughes was allowed to run at the Hornets defence and he slipped the ball through to Sammon and the substitute was in no mood to pass up another great opportunity as he fired past Almunia to make it 3-2.
Despite five minutes of injury time, the Hornets were unable to create another opportunity as their unbeaten home league record came to an end.
Watford: Almunia; Belkalem, Angella, Ekstrand; Cassetti, McEachran, Iriney (Murray 55), McGugan, Pudil; Fabbrini (Acuna 75), Forestieri. Not used: Bond, Brown, Battocchio, Doyley, C Smith.
Derby County: Grant; A Smith, Keogh, Whitbread (Buxton 33), Forsyth; Hughes, Eustace, Bryson; Ward (Sammon 75), Martin, Bennett (Dawkins 46). Not used: Morch, Lowe, Freeman, Jacobs.
Bookings: Iriney for handball (22); Belkalem for a foul on Martin (59); Eustace for a foul on Forestieri (61); Forsyth for a foul on Murray (64); A Smith for a foul on Pudil (78); Ekstrand for a foul on Bryson (79).
Attendance: 16,180 (1,550 away).
Referee: James Linington.
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