Watford return to winning ways as Miguel Britos adds to Sunderland’s woes

Paul MacInnes at Vicarage Road
Watford’s Miguel Britos scores the winning goal against Sunderland at Vicarage Road. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters

David Moyes remained phlegmatic after this match, insisting another escape from the drop remains possible. Walter Mazzarri, for his part, insisted his team had never been part of a relegation scrap. But the truth was visible on the pitch at the final whistle as Watford players erupted in jubilation and Sunderland players fell to their knees.

A back-post header from centre-half Miguel Britos, coming from one of Watford’s 13 corners, was enough to decide a game that was close but not close enough for Sunderland. A match full of chances, the scoreline remained low only thanks to impressive goalkeeping by Huerelho Gomes and, especially, Jordan Pickford.

“We don’t need a miracle, but we do need to win games,” Moyes said. “We needed to get something from this game and I think we deserved to get something from this game, but we haven’t played well enough for long enough this season. We defended well at set-pieces against one of the biggest teams in the league, apart from one, and that was enough.”

Watford’s M’Baye Niang in action with Lamine Koné. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

For Mazzarri, the game should have been decided earlier with chances for M’Baye Niang, in the first half, and Isaac Success, in the second, spoiled by the steadfast Pickford. “We played a good game, but we didn’t score as many as we should have, with chances in both halves,” Mazzarri said. “If you don’t close the game in the Premier League anything can happen.”

With his team now back in the comfortable environs of 10th place – a position Watford have oscillated around all season – Mazzarri felt confident enough to hit back at those who had suggested Watford should be looking over their shoulder. “I understand why someone outside football might have thought we were in trouble, but I never thought so. I think we have been always far away from relegation and very troubled with injury. Our aim was always to stay in the Premier League.”

The game was played at a feisty pace, especially in the first half, with the teams exchanging blows throughout the opening 45 minutes. Jack Rodwell had an effort deflected on to the roof of the net and Adnan Januzaj a cross-shot turned round the post by Gomes before 10 minutes were up.

The hosts punched back immediately with Étienne Capoue’s forceful 11th-minute breakaway ending with first Niang and then Abdoulaye Doucouré drawing saves from Pickford with long-range efforts. In the 20th minute, Stefano Okaka, the striker deputising for an unwell Troy Deeney, should have done better than head Capoue’s cross over from six yards out.

Half-time arrived with the result finely poised and the teams evenly matched, but after the restart Watford slowly ground their way on top.

Mazzarri brought off the reliable Nordin Amrabat for the raw pace and power of Success. The hosts started to crank up the corner count and one resulted in the opening goal. Tom Cleverley, who agreed a permanent deal at Vicarage Road this week, found the immovable object of Okaka on the penalty spot. His header was powerful but somehow deflected on to the bar by Fabio Borini. From the rebound, Craig Cathcart found the composure to pick a header out to the far post where Britos arrived to leap over two defenders and thump the ball into the roof of the net.

Moyes swiftly made changes, withdrawing Januzaj for Wahbi Khazri. A packed Sunderland end booed the Belgian, who once again looked short of the fighting spirit required for a relegation battle, and cheered the Algerian, so crucial to the Wearsiders’ escape from relegation last year. But by the end, bar a long-range effort from Borini, Sunderland had barely crafted a chance. Watford, meanwhile, should have doubled the lead, but Success was denied in a one-on-one by Pickford’s trailing leg.

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